Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm an intellectual. I turn in to PBS because regular TV is way too stupid for me. "The King of Queens"? "According to Jim"? Please. Insults to my intelligence. Enough of the fat, funny men paired with gorgeous, stick-thin women.

So, I heard about a new show on PBS called "Spain: On the Road Again," where Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow take a food holiday in Spain. I'm watching excitedly when the thing premieres. Willie Nelson sings the theme. Establishing shots of Spain. Mario and Gwyneth in a convertible Mercedes.

I see the two of them sitting in the car together, and think, "Wait."

Unfortunately, it's straight downhill from there. Willie rattles on for a good thirty minutes. Why on earth did somebody think this song was appropriate? It conjures up drug-addled tramps in tour buses, but we've got the 21st century Grace Kelly in a convertible Mercedes. What, was "Highway to Hell" spoken for?

Two other people show up for the trip. They follow the pattern. Mark Bittmann is an accomplished chef and food columnist, but if his shoulders were a boat his head would be underwater. Claudia Bassols is a gorgeous, exotic actress. Clearly, this is a world where men are meat and women are parsley.

They all pile into the Mercedes and hit the road. They're all such amazing friends, you know the sparks are going to fly.

"Do you speak a lot of languages?" Mark asks Claudia.

"Yes," Claudia says.

"Cool," Mark replies.


"Anybody wanna eat?" Mario asks.

The next morning, the Mercedes magically multiplies. Mark and Claudia motor off in their own car, and bizarrely the camera follows. Their conversation veers between Spanish language lessons and food.

"How do you say, 'I love the sky' in Spanish?" he asks her. He's a journalist for a major newspaper.

"Me gusto el cielo."

"Me gusto el cielo," Bittmann says.


"How about if we get something to eat?" Claudia asks.

The next day, the couples divide by sexes. The men go to a cheese farm. The women bond over the local equivalent of General Foods Hazelnut Mocha. "How do you say 'I need a hot stone massage' in Spanish?" Gwyneth asks.

"Necesito un masaje con piedras calientes," the human Spanish dictionary replies.

"Oh," Gwyneth says.


"Let's find the guys and get lunch," Gwyneth says.

It doesn't get any better when Mario and Gwyneth are alone. They're both recognized by the local townspeople, though, which is partly what we tuned in for. If we can't have excitement, we'll settle for glamour. A crowd of schoolchildren spot Gwyneth and yell. She smiles but doesn't even hit the brake.

"Have you ever been to Spain before?" Mario asks Gwyneth.

"Nope," Gwyneth says.

"I have," Mario replies.


"How about if we get something to eat?" Gwyneth asks.

In the end, it's a simple recipe. One song, played ad nauseam. Beautiful car, stunning countryside. Four theoretically interesting people with every interesting topic apparently off-limits. No Coldplay, no Chris Martin, no funny-named kids. Still, I might tune in again next week, just hoping they'll venture into an orchard and suddenly discover they have absolutely nothing to say.

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