Ewan McGregor and fellow actor/pal Charley Boorman like hanging out together on motorcycles, an itch they previously scratched in “Long Way Round,” a book and series chronicling their round-the-world trip from London to New York. This time, their sojourn will take them the length of Africa, and based on the nuts-and-bolts premiere, it promises to be a worthwhile ride — part travelogue, part manly bonding, part “The Amazing Race” minus the staged competition. With another book-TV pairing tied to this adventure, the pair slickly underwrite a personal passion by transforming it into a mini-franchise.
Mostly, the series benefits from an easy-going authenticity. McGregor and Boorman have the kind of rapport that’s hard to fake as they spend 85 days traversing 15,000 grueling miles. The kicker is that Africa and its unstable governments introduce all sorts of complications to the planning, among them securing visas from Libya.
The expedition hits other snags even before the plane departs, and Boorman (the son of director John Boorman) clearly isn’t thrilled about McGregor’s decision to invite his wife — Eve Mavrakis, a biking novice — to accompany them for part of the journey. Think of the “Star Wars” star as the killjoy who extends a last-minute invite to the missus on a boys’ weekend to Vegas.
Invariably, there’s considerable self-absorption wrapped up in this daredevil exercise/vanity project, including the obsessing over minor details as directors David Alexanian and Russ Malkin incorporate the filmmaking process into the show. That said, at least this is the increasingly rare celeb-reality series motivated by a larger activity than, say, simply evading the paparazzi.
Fox Reality is clearly happy to draft on McGregor’s renown (“Hey, we got Obi-wan doing TV on our piddling cable channel!”), but “Long Way Down” — which has already aired in the U.K. — manages to play in the “Rich boys and their oversized toys” sandbox and still be entertaining. And based on previews of future episodes, there will be plenty of sand to go around.