NEW YORK — There are celebrities with TV travel shows who can’t wait to show you where they came from or push the limits of their bodies or go out of their way to find the perfect recipe. Then there is Levy Eugene.
The star of “Schitt’s Creek” admits that he is not really a fan of the cold or the heat. He doesn’t like to eat strange things and, well, insects bother him. He would rather stay at home, to be honest.
“Not only do I not love to travel, I have a very low curiosity,” he says during an interview. “I don’t have an adventurous spirit. And I’m thinking, well, aren’t those things you need to host a travel show?”
No need, and so, welcome to Apple TV+’s “The Reluctant Traveller,” a wary and careful host of some of the world’s most beautiful places.
During the eight-episode series, Levy swims in a frozen lake in Finland, hikes around slot canyons in Utah and explores a rainforest in Costa Rica. He also visits Italy, Japan, the Maldives, Portugal and South Africa, even going on Safari and enjoying a gin and tonic as he does.
The more uncomfortable it seems, the funnier the show becomes. “I’m the biggest inside guy,” he jokes to his guide in a Costa Rican forest teeming with thousands of animal species, giving it “all those tiny threats to life.” . While ice fishing in Finland, he notes wryly: “Hearty and resilient are two words that have never been used to describe me.”
“I hope this appeals to seasoned travelers who might look at this and laugh,” he says later in the interview. let them have that sense of adventure, so to speak — that they might see me as a kindred spirit.”
“The Reluctant Traveller” was originally a show centered on hotels with remarkable views that come to light when Levy leaves them to enter the culture he visits and is changed.
In Utah, he stays in an elegant property overlooking the Colorado Plateau where rooms go for more than $3,000 a night but he gets a real sense of spirituality while visiting the modest dwellings of his Navacho guides.
“The thing that stands out to me, for the most part, is the people I run into,” Levy says. “I expect this to be one of those shows with nice personalities.”
In Finland, Levy goes snowmobiling, goes ice fishing and ice swimming, eats reindeer and tries husky sledding – “How do you say slow down in a dog?” He asks – and ice swimming. The Finns have earned their reputation as some of the happiest people in the world. “I’ve never met happier people and I don’t know if being a heavy vodka drinker has anything to do with it,” he jokes.
Levy landed the job trying to talk his way out of it. Executive producer David Brindley recalls that he and Apple executive Alison Kirkham were on the phone trying to entice Levy to host a travel show and listening to him explain how he was the wrong man for the job. They were in stitches.
“We’re all afraid of certain things and we all have things that scare us and we wish we could do something about them, but we never do. And Eugene has just given himself to this process,” Brindley said. “And, as a result, he may not enjoy everything he puts in his mouth or every activity that goes on , but he had a positive impact and he’s come away a bit of a different person.”
The 76-year-old actor with bushy eyebrows and round glasses joins a crowded field of celebrity travel hosts, including Zac Efron, José Andrés, Chris Hemsworth, Will Smith, Stanley Tucci, Macaulay Culkin and Ewan McGregor.
“There are a lot of traveling shows going on around the world and rightly so. They’re great and they’re escapist and they’re beautiful,” said Brindley, chief creative officer at production house Twofour. “But when you’re launching a new one, you want to find something that has a unique selling point, that has the opportunity to do something a little bit different that will grab people’s attention and feel like it’s relatable.”
So in South Africa, viewers will get a kick out of watching the Levy react nervously to the sound of wild animals, and seeing his first warthog – “That’s not fun!” — and play golf among hippos. He collects a fecal sample from a tranquilized elephant and feeds a beautiful baby rhinoceros bottle. “It was a really cool experience,” he says.
To keep Levy fresh, he and his team would visit two sites at a time – spending one week in each – and then break for a few months before reuniting for another series of visits.
Levy consulted on the list of possible locations for the first season and says it was more adventurous each time. “As the series went on, I was kind of rolling with the punches,” he says. “We’ll see how the audience takes it.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits