Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey (DVD)

Not all Grecian urns are ode-worthy.

“The viewer is my best friend when I’m making these programs. I think of myself as if I’m talking to the individual person watching.”—Joanna Lumley

A while back, I wrote a review of Joanna Lumley’s Nile, finding it a pleasant but forgettable watch. Little did I know there’s a series of these things. Now we’ve got Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey, in which actress Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) tours Greece, taking us along for the ride.

Although the classic historic sites that Greece is famous for get their nods, the best thing about this four-episode series is how often it shows us a Greece we don’t usually see. It begins with the obligatory visit to the Parthenon, followed by a trip out to the countryside. We all have an image in our heads of the rolling Greek hills dotted with quaint villages, but this documentary reveals that’s not exactly the case. Lumley and her guides and translators come across modern-day ghost towns, in which entire populations have left their homes for the cities, leaving behind empty row upon row of empty homes. Another village is like something out of a fantasy story, where residents communicate through whistling, with an entire Morse-code like language. The younger generation, we learn, has no interest in whistling, so it looks like this way of life may soon be gone forever.

That’s the point made over and over in this series: Greece is rich with history and tradition, but it’s also troubled. The economic crisis has hit Greece hard, and it shows. We see over and over the ordinary folks of Greece struggling to get by even as they’re surrounded by culture that informed every other nation in the world. Greece, the series shows, is also a place of great diversity. Because of its strategic position as a crossroads for the Mediterranean, Greece has been invaded a bunch of times by Europeans, Turks, and more. These would-be conquerors left their mark on Greek society, and these are explored on the show as well.

Lumley remains a knowledgeable and enthusiastic host, finding amazement in both the big and small encounters along her journey. She has a lot of information about every site she visits, which adds to viewers’ understanding of Greece. I’m aware that some viewers might dislike her and find overdramatic or pretentious, but she never grated on me the way she does with others. You could argue that she takes everything she sees way too seriously, and, as before, she has a habit of describing everything as “extraordinary.” Still, the whole point of this show is “Look how neat Greece is,” so it demands a host who plays along with such.

Video is good on this two-disc set, showing off the Greek landscapes with vivid color and detail. The 2.0 stereo is decent, with clean dialogue and music. The only extras are a text biography of Lumley you read on screen, and an included booklet with further reading about Lumley and Greece.

A good travelogue, with a lot of information about Greece beyond the usual “togas and sandals” stuff we usually get. Check it out if the subject matter interests you.

The Verdict

Not Grecian guilty.

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