The Getaway

"Outside of sports and news, we don't see a single TV destination exploring the diverse passions men are about today,” Esquire Network general manager Adam Stotsky told the Associated Press earlier this week.

That’s the premise behind the new network, which launched this week whence the Style network once stood, launching like a hellfire of drones, launching in search of America’s “more educated, upwardly mobile, and perhaps urbane men.”

Someone I follow on Twitter dubbed that a “transparently false” premise, but you could probably wrestle up an argument around here somewhere that what Esquire, the magazine, covers (high-brow reporting, dandified cultural advice, drink) is not cohesively reflected as an entity on television. Like, Esquire isn’t Spike.

Now, I am not an urbane man, but few things speak to me like men, traveling. No, I’m kidding. This whole premise is kind of ludicrous, but hey, who cares? The Getaway is great!

The Anthony Bourdain-produced show takes the simplest of premises: Watch this celebrity comedian travel to a foreign city and do stuff, and it’s fun as hell to watch.

Watching The Getaway, actually, the formula for the essence of watchability sort of appeared like Beautiful Mind-style before my eyes: You take the simple premise (celebrity goes on trip to foreign place) and rely on his personality, emphasize the tangible or replicable things (eating, drinking, touring), capture productive interviews with locals, and edit sharp with a crisp aesthetic built out of your brand.

What really pops in the show’s first offering, featuring Joel McHale traveling to Belfast (where his wife lived in the 1990s) is the stuff beyond McHale. Of course McHale is going to be good in this kind of setting. He’s a comedian and an experienced host. And with a Bourdain-produced show in a city like Belfast, the food is going to straight jump off the screen, which it certainly does.

But the element that delights throughout the first installment of The Getaway is the interviews with locals. That’s the wins above replacement. They’re not stilted or hokey (like, there’s only a shade of them devoted to slang no one will ever venture to actually use in a foreign country, and besides, some of it is dirty). They’re well-edited. They’re practical—people give restaurant and menu recommendations, as though this is just a routine city guide situation. And they clearly cast about for these people to put in front of the camera, because you get guys like the one early on in the hour, who delivers this shining testament to his city:

“Belfast in the past has been a very, very tough town—a war-torn town. That creates a lot of tension, which can also create a lot of energy, which can also create a lot of stories, which turns into music, which turns into drinking, which turns into fun. And sex. […] Golf, pubs, good music, good women. Get your ass to Belfast.”

If the hour comes off like a dispatch from the Belfast Tourism Department, but with especially high production qualities, well, that’s not entirely different from when Esquire or GQ ranks bars or restaurants. (And the Troubles are, of course, discussed to an extent here, though more courtesy McHale’s wife, Sarah, making a kind of hilarious appearance in that the entire thing was kind of stiff, in a natural way.) Additionally, since the next installments of The Getaway feature Aziz Ansari in Hong Kong and Aisha Tyler in Paris (yup), the slate is a mix of cities on the popularity scale in terms of destinations.

Either way, it's not the most brilliant hour that's ever been conceived or going to cure any physical ills or anything like it, but I will gladly watch Joel McHale and likable people like him tour a city.

(Update: This piece originally stated that Esquire rebranded G4. It didn't. Esquire took over what was once Style.)

Stray observations:

  • I had no idea that dog racing is big in Belfast.
  • Nor DeLoreans.
  • Seriously, how damn good does that food look? Like everything was either fish or fried or fried fish.
  • “I’m going to order what’s called a Guinness”
  • “By the end of the night I will be down at the Titanic museum, pounding on the door. And then I will run head-on into the ocean, screaming, ‘Rory McIllroy, where are you?’ Rory! I found your ball!’”