It’s hard for travel television to surprise us anymore. This isn’t the fault of the hosts or the producers, it’s just the nature of the beast. At their best, our own trips are enlightening, perspective-widening, and fun — so virtually every show about travel will try to hit those three sweet spots. Even Bourdain, who managed to seem fresh by adding a little dry humor, still circles these basic themes.
When we watched the screener for Planet Primetime we expected another, “I learned! I gained new perspective! I had fun!” show. That would have been fine, by the way. Travel television is like food television: there’s no crime in riffing on a common format. But the show, hosted by Karla Cavalli, was such a wild departure from typical travel TV that it felt like a shock to the system. While it still had those three classic elements mentioned above, it also dared to try something that not enough travel shows risk: It was weird. Like, super weird.
That weirdness, that willingness to dive into a culture even when you can’t quite make sense of it, is what makes the show so good. The basic plot line is that Cavalli goes to different country and approaches their TV culture the same way that Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern approach food culture. And since TV bleeds into all facets of human life, so too does the show.
Cavalli, as our fish-out-of-water avatar, is perfect. She plays along, even when she doesn’t know the language. She is like the ultimate improv partner, always saying “yes and…” when challenged to try something bizarre. This week — fresh off the premiere episode — we spoke to the host about Japanese humor, viewing the world with a sense of wonder, and the joy of seeing someone get hit in the nuts.