In 2006, when I was having lunch at work, I suddenly felt really, really ill. It turned out to be the start of a lifelong struggle with Meniere’s disease, an incurable (but treatable) condition which affects my balance. Basically, I’ve been dizzy for 14 years (and counting). Sometime in 2010, before I got officially diagnosed, this new thing launched in Canada called Netflix. I got a free trial, and browsing for stuff to watch, I came across Ewan McGregor’s familiar face. It wasn’t a movie, though: it was Long Way Round, a TV series in which Ewan and his best friend Charley Boorman went around the world in motorbikes. What followed was the birth of a decades-long admiration of Charley and Ewan’s adventures: Long Way Round was followed by Charley’s Race to Dakar, which was then followed by the duo’s Long Way Down. And then, Charley made some cracking shows (Extreme Frontiers, By Any Means, more), but the duo remained separated on-screen. Fans like myself had been waiting for a literal decade for Charley and Ewan to reunite. I thought I’d never write the words: “Long Way Up Episode 1″ And then, I saw this:
My mind started racing: it’s happening. It’s finally happening! I replayed the trailer. Adrenaline wearing off, a few things started to jump out at me. First: Russ Malkin and David Alexanian, the dynamic duo of directors/producers responsible for bringing most of the duo’s adventure content to life, were back. I sighed with relief, as I knew Russ and Dave (I consider them my pals, even though we’ve never met) wouldn’t take the project awry. Then, the challenge: electric vehicles. I’m a huge fan of clean energy, and in fact, I’m in the process of setting up my very own NGO in Paraguay, which at its core is powered by solar energy. But I knew it wouldn’t be easy, as there are no production-ready vehicles to take on the trip (from South America’s southernmost tip, to Los Angeles). I was eager to see how the team tackled this, and what it meant for the industry moving forward. I was hooked.
Throughout the years, Ewan and Charley’s adventures have been my favorite way of “traveling” when my health prevented me from doing so physically. The shows were not just entertaining: they were an escape from my confinement. They allowed me to see the world through the eyes of two best friends traveling in motorbikes. Unlike highly stylized travel shows, they met real people. They didn’t go to regular places. How many shows have you seen where the hosts eat testicles in a hut in Mongolia? I loved Long Way Round, Long Way Down, By Any Means and everything else these two have put out. And now, Long Way Up was here at last.
My only concern was that the trailer felt… off. As I’ve worked in the entertainment industry for over a decade, I know a trailer rarely shows the final product’s true character. But it just felt… pithy. And like it was trying to appeal to the YouTube generation. So, I got onto my corporate email address, and I started reaching out to Apple TV+ representatives (Apple’s streaming service now hold the rights to the series) to see if I could cover the show. In what’s possibly one of the nicest interactions I’ve had when requesting access to assets for coverage, I was soon set up with screeners, and my 10-year-wait had come to an end. Long Way Up Episode 1. Play.
As soon as I heard the now-familiar theme tune (they’ve used the same one, with minor alterations, since the first series in 2004), I knew it’d be alright. I knew that what I loved about these trips would be maintained. That the influencer feeling in the trailer would give way to Ewan and Charley’s genuine banter, an amazing rapport with the people they meet along the way, and an opening of the mind which only travel can bring.
As much as some things remained the same, some were distinctly different. Aside from the challenges of attempting the journey on vehicles that hadn’t been invented yet, using an imaginary infrastructure, the new show looked like it was filmed in 2019. Because it was. And as much as I love looking at the old stuff, and it’s aged rather well, high-bitrate, high-definition footage and portable drones add another layer of polish to this already amazing show.
As for Long Way Up Episode 1 itself, it’s based around the same premise as the other “first-episodes”. You see the team assemble and struggle as they look for suitable electric bikes, electric support vehicles and an infrastructure to generate the energy for them to travel.
It’s pretty amazing to see Harley-Davidson step up to the challenge, modifying one of their newest electric bikes to turn it into a touring bike (based off of the boys’ feedback). But it was even more baffling to see Rivan, a near-unknown company, provide not one but two experimental vechiles, and help set up a trans-continental charging station network. Or at least, try.
Not everything went off smoothly, and I don’t want to spoil too much. But as much as it was great to see the struggles of trying to snag KTM to end up with the now-legendary BMW GS1200 Adventure bikes in the first series, it’s quite amazing to see a literal new technological frontier be broken explicitely thanks to Long Way Up.
This setup episode is something I love, but some may not find it as action-packed as they’ve perhaps hoped. For long-term fans like myself, we’ve grown to love seeing the team rally around the concept and figuring out how to make it happen. It looks amazing, sounds great, and the boys are as chirpy as ever, despite Charley having almost died –twice! (though before shooting started, more on that within the episode). For newcomers, it may feel a bit more logistics than adventure. Worry not, however, as Episode 2 starts with one hell of an action bang. And the return of more familiar faces. Review coming soon.