There are celebrities with TV travel shows who just can’t wait to show you where they came from or push the limits of their bodies or go out of their way to locate a perfect recipe. Then there’s Eugene Levy.
The “Schitt’s Creek” star admits he’s not really a fan of the cold or the heat. He doesn’t really like eating strange things and, well, insects freak him out. He’d rather stay home, to be honest.
“Not only do I not love traveling, I’ve got a very low sense of curiosity,” he says during an interview. “I do not have an adventurous spirit. And I’m actually thinking, well, aren’t those things you need to host a travel show?”
Not necessarily, and so welcome, to Apple TV+’s “The Reluctant Traveler,” the unlikely wedding of a droll and cautious host with some of the most beautiful places on Earth.
During the eight-episode series, Levy swims in a frozen lake in Finland, walks 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 he seems, the funnier the show becomes. “I’m the more Great Indoors type of guy,” he jokes to his guide in a forest in Costa Rica brimming with thousands of species of animals, what he calls “all those tiny threats to life.” While ice fishing in Finland, he notes drily: “Hearty and resilient are two words that have never been used to describe me.”
“I’m hoping this appeals to seasoned travelers that might watch this and chuckle,” he says later in the interview. “But also to people who, like me, don’t travel extensively, are not fond of traveling, don’t have that sense of adventure, so to speak — that they will see me as a kindred spirit.”
“The Reluctant Traveler” was initially a show pitched as a way to feature hotels with remarkable views that morphed into one which really shines when Levy leaves them to go into the culture he’s visiting 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 finds a real sense of spirituality visiting his Navajo guide’s modest homestead.
“The memorable thing for me, by and large, are the people that I’m running into,” Levy says. “I’m hoping that this is one of those shows with a nice kind of different personality.”
In Finland, Levy rides a snowmobile, goes ice fishing and ice swimming, eats reindeer and attempts husky sledding — “How do you say slow down in dog?” he asks — and ice swimming. He finds Finns deserve their reputation as some of the happiest people on Earth. “I’ve never met people that were any happier and don’t know whether being big vodka drinkers has anything to do with it,” he jokes.
Levy landed the job by trying to talk himself out of it. Executive producer David Brindley recalls he and Apple executive Alison Kirkham were on a phone call trying to lure Levy into hosting a travel show and listening to him explain how he was the wrong man for the job. They were in stitches.
“We all have fears about certain things and we all have things that scare us and we sort of wish that we could do something about them, but we never do. And Eugene has just given himself over to this process,” said Brindley. “And, as a result, maybe he doesn’t enjoy absolutely everything that he puts in his mouth or every activity that goes on, but it’s had a positive influence 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 celeb travel hosts, which includes Zac Efron, José Andrés, Chris Hemsworth, Will Smith, Stanley Tucci, Macaulay Culkin and Ewan McGregor.
“There’s a lot of travel shows around the world and rightly so. They’re gorgeous and they’re escapist and they’re beautiful,” said Brindley, chief creative officer at production house Twofour. “But launching a new one, you want to find something that has a unique selling point, that has the chance to do something a tiny bit different that will just grab people’s attention and also that feels relatable.”
So in South Africa, viewers will get a kick out of watching Levy nervously reacting to wild animal noises, seeing his first warthog — “That is not a pleasant-looking thing!” — and playing golf among hippos. He collects a fecal sample from a tranquilized elephant and charmingly bottle feeds a baby rhino. “That was a very, very cute experience,” he says.
To keep Levy fresh, he and his team would visit two locations at a time — spending one week in each — and then break for a few months before reuniting for another set of visits.
Levy consulted over the list of possible locations for the first season and says he got more adventurous each time. “As the series went on, I was kind of rolling with the punches,” he says. “We’ll see how the viewers take to it.”