TV blog: The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan

Benjie Goodhart / 28 June 2018

Comedian Romesh Ranganathan tests his already nervous disposition by travelling outside his comfort zone. Plus, the best of the rest of the week’s TV.



The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan, Sunday 1st July, 9pm, BBC Two

My mum has always been convinced I should have had a career on the telly. Everyone’s mum probably thinks their kid should be on telly, but mine was flatly and intractably certain of it. First, she thought I should be a newsreader, until I think even she recognised that my intellectual limitations and limited work ethic might stand in my way. For a long time, she thought I should be a sports commentator, in spite of the fact that I ‘um’ and ‘er’ so much it would be halftime before I finished a sentence. So then she hit on the idea of my presenting travelogues, on the basis that you don’t really need to be an expert in anything, you just go to places and talk about them.

This, undoubtedly, was her worst idea yet. I do not travel well. In India, aged 16, I managed to contract typhoid and amoebic dysentery, and had my passport, all my money and traveller’s cheques stolen. Ever since then, simply leaving these shores for a day trip to France is enough to reduce me to a quivering wreck. A look back at the white cliffs of Dover can induce a full-blown panic attack. The very idea of having a nervous traveller stressing their way around a country in front of the cameras is utterly absurd. At least, it was.

Comedian Romesh Ranganathan’s new three-part series is essentially exactly that. Nervous by nature, he is the antithesis of your Levison Woods and Simon Reeves, lantern-jawed travelogue tough guys with matinee idol looks who stare death in the face, laugh, and nick its lunch. So poor old Romesh is being dispatched to some of the world’s less salubrious and more troubled hotspots, ostensibly to find out if they really are as bad as their reputations suggest, but really just to make him suffer. Later episodes will see him journey to Ethiopia and Albania, but first up it’s Haiti.

By his own admission, Romesh is no expert on Haiti. All he knows is that it’s hot, it’s the home of voodoo, and they had a catastrophic earthquake a few years back. Already somewhat tense, his mood isn’t improved by the Haitian woman next to him on the flight who warns him he will probably be killed in her country. Stress levels are increased further when he arrives at his hotel, to find the front lawn covered in effigies including human skulls. Romesh immediately recognises them as voodoo symbols, being something of a self-styled expert on the subject. “I’ve seen Live and Let Die.”

The next morning, Romesh meets up with his guide, an award-winning local journalist and affably smiley fellow called Jeremy. He promises to hook Romesh up with a local voodoo priest, for a ceremony to cure him of his anxiety. But before he can do that, he must go shopping in somewhere called The Iron Market (which is less Game of Thrones than it sounds). Here, he meets the world’s angriest shopkeeper, who sells him products including ‘Leave Me Alone Shampoo’ and ‘Go Away Powder’, two products which I think I may have been inadvertently using for much of my teens and twenties.

The programme trots along at a cheerful lick, and Jeremy and Romesh’s gratifyingly giggly relationship is infectious. But what is satisfying here is that Romesh isn’t just looking for laughs. The programme has a serious and thoughtful side, which is only appropriate considering they’re visiting colossal and dangerous slums like Cité Soleil, or looking round the ruins of a cathedral that collapsed during the earthquake.

Romesh’s spirits are raised by a trip to the beaches of Jacmel. “Next time open with this,” he advises Jeremy. But as his visit draws to a close, his voodoo ritual comes inexorably nearer, and his nerves fray. It’s not improved, on arrival, by the presence of a number of chickens, whose days Ramesh assumes are numbered in the name of the ritual. “I’m a vegan. It would be offensive to me if he started making an omelette, let alone killed those chickens.” The Go Away powder is scattered on the floor, immediately attracting mice, making Romesh wonder if he should ask for a refund.

Gloriously funny one minute, thoughtful and touching the next, this is an absolute delight. More cowards on TV! Maybe mum was right after all…

Wimbledon 2018, starts 11am, Monday 2nd July, BBC Two

It is never too late to discover a passion for televised sport. This is just one of the many things my mother has taught me (she’s quite the feature today - Dr Freud would have much to say). Others include how to make curried egg, and how to eat an artichoke, skills which will be very useful if I ever find myself in the 1970s. But now, at the age of 78, she has finally embraced sport in a way I would never have thought possible.

It is a thing of great joy for me. I am a sport addict. When my wife goes to bed, and I am given sole custody of the remote, I will find an obscure live baseball game or motorcycle race or ice hockey match, tell myself I’m only going to watch for five minutes, and then find myself still there, an hour later, hopelessly involved. Yet all my life, my mum has found this an absolute mystery. She would attempt to engage me in conversation, but after she started complaining that it was the umpire’s mistake that meant England lost three-love in the football, I tended to switch off.

But at the last Olympics, something extraordinary happened. She simply couldn’t stop watching. She’d be up with the lark watching rowing, and would still be there 16 hours later watching men’s lightweight Taekwando heats. Even more extraordinary has been her reaction to this year’s World Cup. She’s always found football a rather gauche, vulgar sport, But now she couldn’t be more of a fan if she wore a replica strip and had Harry Kane’s face tattooed on her leg.

I mention all of this for one reason, and one reason alone. If you, like my mum for 75 years, are an inveterate sport-hater, it might be time to rethink your position. Because for the next fortnight, it’s basically going to be wall-to-wall sport on the TV. While BBC One and ITV are divvying up the football, BBC One and BBC Two are also showing Wimbledon. This week there’s also athletics, Formula One, a documentary about Wimbledon, and a documentary about Barry Davies. There is no escape. So your options are: Read a book. Go for a walk in the fresh air. Socialise with dear friends. Get those much-needed jobs done. Each one of these, I’m sure you will agree, is utterly unthinkable. So you might as well submit to the thrillingly sweaty embrace of sport on the telly.

Wimbledon coverage will, as ever, begin every day at 11:30am, and will be fronted by Sue Barker. The highlights will be on BBC Two each evening at 8:30pm, presented by Clare Balding. Among those proffering their expert opinions are McEnroe, Henman, Becker, Navratilova, and Billie Jean King. Everything is just as it should be. And this year, for the first time, there will also be coverage in Ultra HD, for the 17 people nationwide who have a UHD TV and a high-speed internet connection. There will also be up to 16 live streams at any time, available online or on the red button, so if you absolutely have to catch the Belorussian mixed-doubles pair playing at the same time as Kyle Edmund, you’re quids in.

As for the tennis itself… well, I’ve heard the world men’s number 156 isn’t bad. Sir Andrew Murray. But after a year’s lay-off with injury, this looks like a tournament too soon in his comeback. He’ll do well just to make the start. An injury-ravaged Djokovic is in a similar predicament. And so, just like old times, we are left with Federer and Nadal, these two extraordinary veteran campaigners who seem undimmed by the effects of age. Elsewhere, Cilic, del Potro and Thiem will try to upset the odds, and Britain’s Edmund will seek to build on a hugely encouraging season that has seen him make the world’s top 20.

Among the women, defending champion Garbine Muguruza will face strong challenges from former winner Petra Kvitova, and World Number 1 Simona Halep. Serena Williams will continue her own comeback, after having a baby, and Brit Johanna Konta will look to emulate last year’s semi-final success last year after a somewhat lacklustre year.

Let battle commence!

The best and the rest

Saturday 30th June

Tennis: Eastbourne, 12:15pm, BBC One: If you can’t quite wait another 48 hours for your tennis fix, join Clare Balding as she presents live coverage of the final from Eastbourne.

Wednesday 4th July

The Big NHS Singalong Live, 9pm, ITV: The NHS choir is joined by celebrities in a unique, live record-breaking attempt to celebrate the NHS turning 70. The plan is to arrange the biggest live singalong ever, and the song in question is the old Beatles classic With a Little Help From My Friends (although the Joe Cocker version was even better). (Dons tin helmet, takes cover).

Barry Davies: The Man, The Voice, The Legend, 10:45pm, BBC One: Were it not enough that Motty hung up his microphone last month, now the supremely gifted Barry Davies is doing so as well. Will we just have to watch sport in silence from now on? This documentary talks to some sporting greats about the man as adept at covering tennis, football, rowing or a host of Olympic events.

Honestly, that’s about it. The rest is sport. Yippee!

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