• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Leaders with a pack

At last, a refreshingly honest travel show on a cockroaches-and-dysentery budget. If only it had a decent timeslot.

A certainty of cheap travel: with hung-over nerves frayed by humidity, mosquitoes, pimps and, say, an impertinent frisking at an airport bristling with heavily armed guards, someone will have a meltdown. It is mortifying. So, TV2's ghetto time-slot (1.00pm, Thursdays) for Julian and Camilla's World Odyssey, a Kiwi warts-and-all backpackalogue, has a small upside for them: for now, the hosts' variable moods, barneying and prodigious vomiting remain unexposed to nine-to-five New Zealand.

The downside for us? This series is far better than most of the travel shows for which you don't need to set the video. Titular hosts Julian Hanton and Camilla Andersen, along with cameraman Tom Fowlie and researcher/sound technician Ian Hart, floated the idea of a "travel show with a twist" a couple of years ago, but had no takers. So, without a network to which they could hitch their nascent TV stars, the quartet set off in early 2003 for a year's travel, with only a small amount of external financial help. They hoped that, once they filmed it, support would come. And that was the twist. These travellers journeyed, continuously, for 10 months, on an honest, cockroaches-and-dysentery budget. Intrepid.

There's a captivating lack of polish in Camilla and Julian's presentation as they virtually ignore the camera while keeping up a stream of sibling-style banter, bickering and hassling and one-upping each other reflexively.

Camilla told the Listener that "a lot of old-school people have said, 'It's a bit rough. Why aren't your presenters enjoying themselves all the time?' That's not the point. I can't go round saying, 'Hi! I'm in Bali! Bali's great!' I'll leave that to the good people who can do that. I'll leave that to Charlotte and Petra."

Indeed. Approaching yet another temple, Julian breaks a rare silence to enquire sensitively, "How's your diarrhoea, Camilla?"

He will make retching noises when she's sick and refuse to believe that his sickness could be self-inflicted, even when Camilla reminds him how much alchohol he had had the night before. It's reminiscent of the time you thought you were going to die on that rickety bus in the middle of South-east Asia! Or, for those too long out of Birkenstocks, it's an insight into what your kids are doing between writing desultory postcards and phoning home when they've been pickpocketed. Julian to Mum: "What's the time over there? Oh ... sorry."

Viewers wondering whether the onscreen chemistry is a front for something more hormonal are not alone. "The ambiguousness of Julian and Camilla as a couple," Ian says, "was quite funny."

"It's not ambiguous, Ian!" Camilla interjects. "We're not a couple!" Which is just as well, because, as the series goes on, it becomes apparent that Julian has a penchant for bohemian English lasses, and is keen to enjoy the legendary social life of the single male backpacker. During the day, he's deliberately - and hilariously - foiled by Camilla placing her hand on his arm at precisely the wrong moments. He doesn't fare much better at night, even at the infamous Full Moon Party on Thailand's Ko Phan Ngan.

Now safely back in Auckland, Camilla says "on the record" that Julian is still looking for a wife. In an email from London, Julian writes, "I'm sure they had a good laugh telling you that."

Amid the badinage, the World Odyssey - 11 countries in 10 episodes. And their mission to go beyond the usual tourist traps sees them explore the Khmer Rouge's torture headquarters, Thailand's sex and forensics hot spots, a marijuana plantation, nudist beaches and Soweto. And all this is up against TV1's Days of Our Lives.

Dogged investigation and wishful thinking also lead to some real coups: a rare audience with masked Zapatistas in the Mexican mountains, an "intimidating" interview with media-shy Noam Chomsky and a surreal tour of Hijo del Santo's home - the son of Mexican folk hero and wrestling great Santo.

Although the team are earnest in their efforts to highlight domestic issues in the places they visit, they're never precious about it: their impeccable research is tempered by the weary irreverence of the jetlagged. For example, in Mexico, their hard-won interview with reclusive masked revolutionaries contrasts with the frivolity of a parade that they stumble across for "some holy baby". Nor are they so off-the-beaten-track that they bypass the usual suspects in favour of a "pure" backpacking experience - the Full Moon Party is a highlight, as are Machu Picchu (where they spot UN chief Kofi Annan) and Lake Titicaca, though possibly because Julian so clearly relishes saying the name.

An American distributor took the series to the annual MIPCOM TV distribution festival in Cannes, and it was bought by more than 16 territories, including New Zealand.

Julian and Camilla's World Odyssey has come in the back door with aspirations to join the primetime party - and here's hoping - but for now it remains one of the best local shows you're not watching. Fingers crossed for reruns, as another series is a distant hope - Ian says that "it's taking Julian and Camilla being on opposite sides of the world to think about it".

Meanwhile, Julian is entrenched in London, pursuing a "long-term goal to buy a huge villa in Mediterranean Europe and turn it into a backpackers/bed and breakfast with attached restaurant". Listen up, ladies.