Gregg Wallace: Big Weekends Away review – TV's shoutiest tour guide

Figcaption Gregg Wallace Big Weekends Away Review TVs Shoutiest Tour Guide
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

B illy Connolly once noted that whenever a politician opened his mouth, all he could think was “Why is this person lying to me?” I feel similarly about Gregg Wallace. Every time he opens his mouth – why is this man SHOUTING at me?

This time, in the opening episode of Gregg Wallace: Big Weekends Away (Channel 5), he is shouting at me from Barcelona. On a big weekend away. “FRIDAY,” booms a screen-filling explanatory caption. “I’ve ARRIVED,” Gregg explains as he gets out of a taxi, “in early afternoon! It means I can squeeeeeze as MUCH as possible out of out of my three days!” Gotcha.

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Things unfold along traditional, unbearable lines for this sort of half-arsed travelogue. There’s the whistle-stop tour of famous sites (“The BASILICA de la SAGRADA FAMÍLIA! Or to me and you THE BASILICA of the Sacred FAMILY”) with dreary three-line commentaries heavily informed by Wikipedia. There are shots of the presenter marvelling at quotidian differences (Barcelona has laundry flapping on balconies – “I like it!”) and taking advantage of shopkeepers’ infinite politeness and flawless English to point at slightly unusual foodstuffs, chomp on free samples and reveal our insular, piggish ignorance to the world.

And it’s worse when it’s Wallace. When he hears the price of the jamón ibérico he’s just crammed in his masticating maw – affording us a moment of blessed silence – he says incredulously “I’m not going to WEAR it as jewellery?! I’m. Going. To. EAT IT!” Later he bares his teeth in a grin at the women working in a bakery in a manner that suggests he believes them to be absolute simpletons. What an ambassador.

On we agonisingly go. He is shown round Gaudi’s Casa Batlló, taken through the Gràcia Street Festival and eats tapas at one of the oldest bars in the Catalan capital, asking ordinary, basic questions as aggressively as possible. “WHEN?” “What room was THIS?” “Lamb TOAST?!” while being grimly overfamiliar (“My friend!”) with them all. His unfortunate hosts look wary and weary. Wallace throws his arms round one, who stands impassive, a faint, wry smile on his lips as he gazes into the middle distance and waits for the ridiculous charade to end. I could not admire him more, even as I mouth heartfelt apologies at the screen.

It’s painful, exhausting and more or less completely unedifying (“The key thing IS,” he roars in the tapas bar, “Is that it’s LOTS OF SMALL PLATES to SHARE!”). Most baffling is the moment, when he is taking a painting class with a woman so sweet and serene she could calm the raging seas, that Wallace calms down. He even cracks a normal, human, gentle joke, in normal, human, gentle tones. Which begs the question – is it all an act? If so, why? Or did it begin as such and now the mask has eaten the face? Does he feel trapped behind a caricature of his own making? Are we seeing a man locked in suffering?

Gregg? Is that you? Are you in there? Do you need help? Shout inanities once for YES! And twice for NO! We will help if we can. Partly because of our common humanity and partly so we can avoid the embarrassment of seeing you represent us again. We can SAVE YOU, Gregg, and in doing so SAVE OURSELVES. Just let us know, my friend. Just let us know.

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