Knit to This: Around the World in 80 Days
I’ll be honest: I’m not really very sold on the new Around the World in 80 Days adaptation (currently airing on Masterpiece; thank you Darlene Shiley and Viewers Like You). It’s a little bit, hmmm, junky and knockabout and I’m not quite sure if it was filmed pre-pandemic or not, but some scenes that should really have a cast of—if not thousands—at least hundreds look more like they’re populated by a cast of, oh, let’s say tens.
The part of me that is on board with the adaptation, however, is largely there because of the liberties it takes with the book (which would normally have me arching an eyebrow—and if you have ever seen me do so, you know what a savage indictment it can be). This production leaves the book’s basic premise intact … and that’s about it. Phileas Fogg (David Tennant) now has a sad secret and Fix (in this version, along for the ride as friend rather than foe) is now a Lady Journalist (don’t @ me: they might even refer to her as that at one point), and Passepartout is Black and finally has a backstory of his own, something the book sorely lacks.
They all end up in a balloon basket together, as every memory you have of this story absolutely insists. The first episode’s the least interesting, mainly because it crams so much in (including the balloon) that you end it a little whiplashed. Their bags get stolen so many times that I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time wondering about the source of the many different getups they keep parading around in.
But stick with it if you’re not deeply engaged by some other program right now; it has some interesting bits. For example: the episode that centers around Jane Digby (who was a real person, here played by the immortal Lindsay Duncan) will send you down a research rabbithole that’ll have you wondering, “Where’s the miniseries about her?”
I do think the story still has problems. It’s tough to watch a contemporary adaptation of a 19th century adventure story that visits a handful of European colonies—Hong Kong and India among them—without addressing the issue of colonization in any serious way, though almost all of the villains are definitely stand-ins for colonizers from Europe.
There are quite a few terrible (and terribly funny) reviews of it out there—definitely tiptoe through a few of them to see if this is your cup of tea.
I’m caught up through the Hong Kong episode, with the US chapter on the near horizon, and I am quite interested to see how they iron out the very worst stereotyping in the book: the American West bits. Again: it’s not great. But I’m fifty percent invested in eighty days. So I think it’s worth forty of your whatevers so far.