Dave Gorman’s America Unchained DVD review

Craig likes Are You Dave Gorman? But, he wonders, why hasn't Dave Gorman done anything that good since?

Dave Gorman. Not on form here.

I first saw Dave Gorman presenting his Are You Dave Gorman? TV show in 2001, a comedy adventure in which his mate challenged him to meet 54 other Dave Gormans from all over the world. The programme used a combination of humour and an evident love of statistics, to make this rather limp concept into an original, engaging and highly amusing little show. For whatever reason, I’ve failed to watch anything he’s done since but when the intriguingly named Dave Gorman’s America Unchained wound up at Den Of Geek HQ, I leapt at the chance to review it.

The idea is interesting, if not a little idealistic. Dave and his mate Stef will fly to the States and travel Coast to Coast, “without giving money to The Man” and supporting only “Mom and Pop” businesses, in an effort to see what he believes is the ‘real’ America. This includes buying their car second-hand from a private seller and only stopping at independent gas stations (which are few and far between). They’re only allowed to buy food in independent cafés or shops and, to make matters worse, Dave is one of them pesky vegetarians. It all seems like a lunatic undertaking, especially when their vintage station wagon (the car that Dave feels most represents “the true spirit of America”) breaks down within minutes of its purchase, but still they pursue the dream.

Whilst Dave shows admirable skill with numbers, as expected, he shows little in the way of even the most basic common sense. For example, he happily calculates how many miles to the gallon the car will do on a full tank (based on a highly unreliable number given to him by the seller) but fails to, ooh, I don’t know, stick a few cans in the back for emergencies. Given that they’re driving through deserts and remote back roads within hours of starting the trip, you’d’ve thought this is the first thing you’d do; especially in a massive station wagon with room enough in the back for at least ten cans worth.

This ridiculous inability to reason is the first thing that grates, rather than amuses. The task is difficult enoughs to begin with so it’s merely annoying when Dave veers thousands of miles out of the way in an effort to visit as many towns called “Independence” as he can find.

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This could work if he were enthusiastic, but he bitches and moans about it the whole time, becoming especially whiny when Stef  abandons him, her already bad back having become unbearably painful after spending four and a half thousand miles in a car when the original route plan was just over three thousand. Sympathy for Dave is impossible since a) it’s his own stupid fault for putting her in that position (although a camerawoman with a bad back seems like a recipe for disaster anyway) and b) his supposed ‘nervous breakdown’ when she leaves him alone is so unbearably contrived, it’s almost embarrassing to watch. It’s clearly thrown in to add much-needed drama to a dreary story that, for the most part, consists of Dave turning to the viewers, grinning inanely and telling us that he’s about to run out of gas for the zillionth time because he’s too stupid to fill up a few cans worth.

The second major issue with America Unchained is that he has a vaguely political agenda but no real point to prove with it. The one time he stops at a ‘chain’ gas station is when he’s forced to by having broken down some miles outside of the town and needing to be towed by the nearest garage. The folks there are so friendly, they give him the recovery service ‘on the house’ so his whole oft-repeated point about ‘independent’ places being nicer is blown out of the water by his own footage.

He talks, frequently, as if he believes everyone who works in chain establishments to be either a robot, a zombie or both and yet this is never demonstrated by anything we see onscreen – probably because it’s patently not true. There are good people and bad people throughout all areas of the service industry and since this seems to be his primary distinction between ‘chain’ and ‘independent’, it falls flat.

So we get laboured, saccharine footage of poor but proud Americans clinging to the dream of running these glorious independent stores in the face of the evil Man. There’s a laughably overdone scene where he finds a café called Taylor’s Coke Stand that’s been family-run for several generations. Never mind that it’s called Taylor’s COKE Stand and you can’t see a single square foot of it that isn’t plastered with the Coca Cola logo. Instead, he ignores this to concentrate on telling us things how there were children who wouldn’t exist had their parents not met and made out over a milkshake in Taylor’s – because, of course, if it were a McDonald’s instead of a Taylor’s, teenagers would’ve just stayed home and remained celibate their whole lives. Duh.

Admittedly, this kind of wide-eyed, nostalgic naivety could’ve maybe been endearing in the hands of someone better qualified at tugging at the heartstrings but everything about Gorman’s trip feels so contrived, awkward and, well, fake. When you read Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent, a book that has more or less the same message at heart, it’s hard not to be moved by both the poignancy of the writing and the genuine affection the writer feels for his rapidly-disappearing ‘home’. Bryson’s loss at seeing his once favourite places being turned characterless is moving because it’s a very personal one. It’s also a deeply funny book because he knows and loves enough about his subject matter to satirise it effectively.

Gorman, on the other hand, has an embarrassingly blinkered idea ofwhat he, as a middle-class Englishman, feels “the true spirit of America” should be and spends eighty egomaniacal minutes trying to convince the viewer, by bludgeoning us with patronising polemic, that he’s right.

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There are one or two diverting scenes but these are all when Dave meets true eccentrics like the man who built a motel in the shape of a beagle or the war veteran who electrocutes himself with 100 volts in the feet every day so he won’t have to be in a wheelchair (!). It’s a shame more screen time isn’t devoted to the more unusual individuals, rather than the endless smug inanity of Dave’s trailer park tourism or this might’ve actually been funny or interesting.

The saddest part is at the end when he finally reaches the East Coast and waxes lyrically at length on how great he is for having managed it – oh, and with a brief perfunctory aside about how lovely small town Americans are. The whole trip is clearly just one massive ego wank, which – of course – explains why Are You Dave Gorman? was so effective and this is so horrible. It seems that the only thing he truly has any passion for or interest in is himself.

1 out of 5

Rating:

1 out of 5