Mancation shows, ranked: The best bromances abroad

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More than ever, travel shows are providing a window to the world, allowing audiences to vicariously and safely indulge their wanderlust. The best offerings in this genre, like the late Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, nourish viewer curiosity and cultivate greater understanding. Witty entries like Richard Ayoade’s BAFTA-winning Travel Man entertain and advise (and confirm that Paul Rudd is a great road buddy). Several recent additions are food-focused, including Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil and Ugly Delicious—though it’s Taste The Nation With Padma Lakshmi that truly captures the roaming spirit and empathy of Bourdain’s trailblazing show. Others, like Top Gear and Ride With Norman Reedus, focus on the relationship between man and machine, with a rotating lineup of hosts and guests.

But the latest forays into the travel show arena focus on the bond between two good friends, who manage to have a great time whether they’re camping out near a septic tank or swirling chiantis in a remote Italian villa. Though series like The Wine Show first premiered in 2016, it was 2020 that truly ushered in the era of TV mancations: travelogues centered on best buds who set out to drink, ride, and learn together. With its Valentine’s Day premiere, Starz’s Men In Kilts: A Road Trip With Sam And Graham is keeping the vacationing bromance alive. But who is actually enjoying the company of their fellow famous companion? Which duos are actually growing closer the farther out they venture? That’s what we set out to determine in The A.V. Club’s unofficial guide to bromances abroad.

This is a bromance with an emphasis on the “bro.” In Down To Earth, Zac Efron travels the world to learn more about sustainability and climate change and stuff with wellness guru Darin Olien (who looks like Julian Sands if Julian Sands owned and ran a GNC). As they journey to countries like Iceland, Costa Rica, and France, learning about renewable energy and premium potables, Efron and Olien greet most new bits of information with a “Wow” or “Sick!” Efron in particular is easily impressed, but he at least seems genuinely interested in the subjects of solar power and sustainable farming. The docuseries never really reconciles its noble aims with its less-than-noble means—should they really be flying such a big crew to multiple countries around the world if the concern is sustainability? And Efron and Olien rarely ever come across as more than a couple of guys who just ended up booking the same hostel. But on the bright side, viewers will learn more about the resilience of the people of Puerto Rico.


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Most touching moment: Although they never seem especially close, Efron and Olien certainly seem to respect each other, showing approval in a chest-bumping way. And when the time comes to help one family in Old Puerto Rico, they don’t think twice about putting their brawn (and their crew) to good use. And even if it’s on Netflix’s dime, they make a point of paying for the food they eat at Puerto Rican establishments.

Most relatable moment: Making “fire and ice” jokes in Iceland, one of the primary shooting locations for Game Of Thrones.

While making the 2014 film Chef, Jon Favreau so enjoyed studying under Roy Choi, one of the pioneers of the gourmet food truck movement, that he reunited with the Kogi proprietor in 2019 for The Chef Show. Favreau acts as sous chef to Choi as the two tour the U.S., experimenting with recipes and dropping in on restaurateurs and celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck. Choi commands the kitchen, but is never too busy ladling or chopping to answer Favreau’s questions. They share stories about their families while making family-style dinners, and remain just as open to visitors like Seth Rogen and David Chang. The Chef Show loses some points as a travelogue for almost always cutting straight to the kitchen prep after a drone shot or two of the new locale (Vegas, Austin, etc.). But the real meat of the show is two guys feeding each other and learning from each other.

Most touching moment: Have you ever had two friends you were dying to introduce to each other because you just knew they would get along and then you’d be the Three Musketeers? That moment comes for Favreau in the 13th episode of season one, as he and Choi venture to Skywalker Ranch. While preparing a three-course meal for the staff, made entirely from ingredients sourced from the ranch, Favreau introduces his fellow Star Wars director buddy Dave Filoni to his “culinary Jedi.” They all hit it off while chopping tomatoes and stirring compote with Darth Vader spatulas.

Most relatable moment: Early in in season two, Favreau dumps the lasagna noodles into the boiling water without fanning them out. He asks Choi if he messed up, and Choi’s “yeah” is somewhat terse. They’ve been at this a while, traveling and cooking, but there’s still room for error. Favreau can tell he’s disappointed his friend, but if there’s any real tension in the air, it quickly dissipates.

Ewan McGregor and his longtime pal Charley Boorman saddle up for a third time for Long Way Up, the latest in their series of motorcycle-riding journeys around the world. For this Apple TV+ series, McGregor and Boorman rode from the southernmost point in South America up to Los Angeles. They tried to minimize their eco-footprints, er, tire treads, by riding customized electric bikes from Harley-Davidson. Good friends who are also trying to do good? There are worse ways to kickstart a travelogue—and Boorman would know, given that he suffered a devastating injury back when he and McGregor had fallen out of touch, and again during the preparation for Long Way Up. Rather than find a different traveling companion, McGregor waited for his friend to be cleared for the journey, which speaks to the strength of their bond. The tone of Long Way Up is jubilant, as the two mates bust each other’s chops over their tent-pitching skills and party with locals from Chile to Oaxaca.

Most touching moment: You’ll get a little misty-eyed watching McGregor worry over his recuperating pal, but it’s when McGregor’s daughter Jamyan joins the dudefest that the dynamic shifts to one more like a family.

Most relatable moment: Underestimating the spiciness of South American food; devouring a Cup O’ Noodles after being on the road all day.

In Men In Kilts, Outlander co-stars Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish set out to learn more about their Scottish heritage and homeland. Naturally, this involves imbibing quite a bit of whiskey, but not before digging up a peat bog and rolling around in barley at the Laphroaig distillery. Heughan and McTavish have an easygoing chemistry that occasionally gives way to a competitive streak—and, because this is Starz, a moment of streaking—making them an absolute delight to watch. They’re thoughtful in their exploration of seaside towns and local cuisine, showing pride in everything from the Highland Games to Scottish reels. Heughan and McTavish occasionally don kilts, but spend about a third of the time swaddled in knits and leather jackets, driving around in a van like a pair of handsome adventurers. The bunks in the back of the van suggest that’s also where they sack out at the end of the night, but we imagine that’s only when they’ve had too much of the Laphroaig 17. Still, it’s clear they’re more than just work friends—you’d have to be in order to be willing to run naked into the northern Atlantic in -6 Celsius temperatures.

Most touching moment: In its early goings, Men In Kilts is primarily about exploits: competing on the golf course, enjoying some langoustine prepared by Tom Kitchin and Tony Singh. But when Heughan re-creates a rite of passage by lifting a huge stone, McTavish cheers and claps him on the back. This, after declining to attempt the same feat. No sour grapes here, just hugs.

Most relatable moment: A toss-up between McTavish circling said huge stone, only to abruptly say no, and watching Heughan run naked into the ocean through binoculars, from inside the warm confines of a van.

Since its debut in 2016, The Wine Show has had a few dapper oenophiles in its lineup, but original co-hosts Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys remain the most effervescent pairing. The two actors make the most of the format, roaming the Italian countryside on side missions in between lessons from wine experts Joe Fattorini and Amelia Singer. Goode and Rhys take the competition, which is to pick 12 wines for the “Wine Show-case” seriously—or, as seriously as they can in between imbibing some of the best wines in Italy. But theirs is easily the most leisurely show in this bunch; despite always being on camera, they never forget that they’re essentially on vacation. Between Goode’s outsize reactions to sparkling wines and Rhys’ wordplay, though, The Wine Show is also one of the funniest entries on this list. (There are also many Goode hats.) Season two breaks up the band, sort of, as Goode teams up with his A Discovery Of Witches co-star James Purefoy, with Rhys still taping gadget segments. The third season, available to Prime Video subscribers in the U.K., has a new central duo in Purefoy and Dominic West, who now benefit from Fattorini’s tutelage. But Goode and Rhys still contribute fashion and puns from afar.

Most touching moment: There are several, as “Goode-y” and “Rhys-y” (fitting if unimaginative nicknames) trade frequent “I love you”s. They express appreciation for each other’s work, and urge each other to keep an open mind about their dealbreakers (for Rhys, it’s sweet wines). The journey across Italy is beside the point; these two “competitors” are already besties.

Most relatable moment: A tie between struggling with the wine key in front of the sommelier who’s already looking down his nose at them, knocking back communion wine because it’s already in the glass, and making “Goode” puns.

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