James May has become one of Amazon’s go-to docuseries hosts because he presents a combination of skills that are actually pretty rare. He’s funny, of course, but he’s also curious and humble, emphasizing the fact that he’s just a guy who’s there to learn and ready to be fascinated by what he sees. In the third season of his travelogue series, May travels across India to see how people live in the amazingly diverse country.
JAMES MAY: OUR MAN IN INDIA: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A shot of Mumbai Harbor. A boat comes in, and we see the loping, grey-haired figure of James May walking through the port as he gets off the boat.
The Gist: Like in the first two seasons of the Our Man In… series, James May — co-host of The Grand Tour and the original iteration of Top Gear, among dozens of other shows — will travel through India and try to get more of an in-depth picture of the daily lives of the people there. Unlike the first two seasons, where he traveled the length of both Japan and Italy, he will be traversing what he calls “the most colorful country on the planet” from its west to its east coast, starting in Mumbai.
As in every season of this series, May is assisted by local residents who help him navigate his surroundings. In Mumbai, he meets up with comedian Aditi Mittal, who has put together a stand-up showcase of the city’s young comedians, many of whom point out the tall Brit and make colonization jokes. They go to the comedy club in what May calls “the wheel-deficient auto rickshaw,” and Aditi claims she’s one of the most relaxed people in the city because she doesn’t know how to drive.
He then goes to Dharavi, which is known as “the slum of Mumbai,” a “rabbit warren” of buildings, semi-paved roads and about 800,000 people packed in just over one square mile. It was where Slumdog Millionaire was shot, and May is amazed at how industrious and entrepreneurial the people who live there are. He finds a business that melts down junk plastic for recycling, a place that makes thousands of “disposable” clay cups for drinking tea per day, and a leather factory. He also carries around a 360-degree camera to shoot the bustling area as he tries to find his way around.
After May and Aditi visit a man who paints old-school Bollywood posters at a classic movie theater, then gets his fortune read, he takes a 500-mile ride to the city of Udaipur, where he braves a pop-up wind and rain storm while watching a master kite flier. Then the holiday of Holi gets underway with bonfires set throughout the city, and then a celebration in the streets the next day, where he and the other people celebrating throw around dye powder, covering May, his crew, and the camera in a rainbow of colors.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The Our Man In… series is reminiscent of travel series from the late Anthony Bourdain or even shows like The Reluctant Traveler, with the wry, self-deprecating sense of humor May has displayed on the shows he’s hosted.
Our Take: May fully admits that India, especially in cities like Mumbai, “always seems to be trying to beat you up” if you’re a Westerner. We’re just not use to the pace and the chaos that is just everyday life for Indians. But, like many Brits, the country is an endless source of fascination to him, and with a population of over 1.4 billion people, there is a massive amount of diversity in both the population as well as the geography and what the country has to offer.
The India season is only three episodes, compared to the six episodes in the seasons he traveled in Japan and Italy. Given that, despite May’s west-to-east trip this time around vs. the north-south orientation of his first two trips, there’s still a whole lot of ground to cover. Because of the shorter season, it seems like there may be fun moments and worthy parts of the country that never see the light of day.
What has always been the best part of the series, though, is May and his self-deprecating manner. He’s always aware that he’s the visitor, and he tends to be respectful of the people he’s walking around with, as well as the people he encounters in his travels. His jibes are always self-directed, and it’s evident that he’s not just using the scenery and people as props for his own self-aggrandizement. That’s not always the case with travel shows like this, and this humble approach always comes off better than the alternative.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: May, as he’s looking at a sunset over Udaipur, tells the audience he’s flattered by their attention to the show, then jokes that if the viewers is bingeing the show, “I’ll see you in about 15 seconds.”
Sleeper Star: We really like Aditi Mittal, who always had a funny line and a great laugh at the ready.
Most Pilot-y Line: None, really.
Our Call: STREAM IT. The reason why James May: Our Man In India works is that May is curious, witty and humble, a fantastic combination for the host of a travel series.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.