Way back in 2004, Ewan McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman decided to ride their motorcycles around the world from London to New York — the long way. That 19,000-mile trek produced British TV series Long Way Round.
A few years later, they and their team rode from Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa, and produced a sequel series, Long Way Down. Neither of these shows have much in the way of social value or a point beyond “this is certainly possible.”
Well, they’re back, with a new Apple TV+ documentary series called Long Way Up, which premieres on Sept. 18. This one recounts yet another epic motorcycle trip, starting at the southern tip of Argentina and covering “13,000 miles over 100 days through 16 border crossings and 13 countries.”
If you’re one of the several people who’s been waiting for the third installment of McGregor and Boorman’s Long Way series, boy are you in luck.
Long Way Up review
I’ve been saying for a while now that Apple TV+ spends a lot of easy money building relationships and flattering egos more than banking on solid entertainment. There’s obvious marketing logic to this. And, yes, it’s grotesque. But I guess it’s necessary to be able to someday have first bidding rights for more-interesting programming from the people they’re gassing up now by buying vanity projects.
Long Way Up is indeed a vanity project. There’s no way around it. Worse yet, it’s a legacy vanity project. It’s the third installment of a series nobody but McGregor (star of Trainspotting and the Star Wars prequels) and Boorman (a TV presenter and the son of the director of Deliverance) particularly cares about.
An epic motorcycle trip in Long Way Up
This one delivers a dubious environmental message, in that the lads rode special electric motorbikes for the trip. (Their camera crew rides in experimental electric SUVs for the duration, too.) Not all of us have Star Wars money to spend, though, so it’s not really the inspirational example it’s likely intended to be.
Still, there’s no denying that the plentiful footage of South American cities and deserts is quite lovely — or that McGregor is one of the most pulchritudinous screen presences in the world. Long Way Up squeaks by on charm and beauty. Imagine you picked up the world’s most handsome hitchhiker, and he needs you to drive 200 miles out of your way to drop him off. Not so bad, all things considered.
‘Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme’
While I can’t really fathom who the perfect audience for this might be (motorcycle enthusiasts who care about the planet and love McGregor), I do know I’m not in it. So I watched this show with my friend Alexa, who has harbored a crush on the Scottish pin-up since she was a girl.
She was charmed to within an inch of her life by the sight of McGregor being nice to Argentine locals and making jokes at his own expense. Long Way Up flew by for her — she couldn’t wait for the next episodes. So, there you have it. To the closest thing to its target audience imaginable, this proves a complete success.
Shocker: Ewan McGregor is human!
I can’t say I wasn’t also taken with some of it. However, there’s just something off about McGregor making fun of himself for hanging a poster wrong and joking that he’s available to host a home-decoration show.
Yes, it’s winning that he’s a human being. But McGregor could walk onto the set of any HGTV show and they’d just let him host regardless. He could nail your hand to a wall and you’d probably thank him (or anyway, I would. Look at him!).
A little recognition of that might have gone a little further toward making the weary traveler not seem like a millionaire hobbyist traveling the world on a production company’s dime.
Long Way Up on Apple TV+
Watch on: Apple TV+ (subscription required). According to Apple, “The first three episodes of Long Way Up will premiere globally on Apple TV+ on Friday, September 18, and new episodes will roll out weekly.”
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.