Wouldn't it be amazing to get out there and see the world? France, Italy, the UK, China, Japan, Africa. There are so many places that I'd love to go, but the sad reality is that I have never left the continental US. I, like many others, are grounded by the costs of traveling abroad. Sure I'd love to go somewhere, anywhere, but until an all expenses paid vacation is dropped on my lap my window to the world is the television. The Travel Channel is one of my cable box's favorite channels and it serves as a tease for the place you want to go. And who is the queen of those teases? Samantha Brown.
Samantha has been the host to numerous Travel Channel programs and she has carved a travel empire out of her charming smile, infectious laugh, and perky personality. From Great Hotels to Passport to Europe and Passport to Latin America, Samantha has risen to the top of the travel industry. You wouldn't think that sitting down to watch someone else have a good time would be a great form of entertainment, but Samantha pulls it off with ease. A prime example of this is the first complete season from Passport to Great Weekends which has recently hit DVD.
This 2-disc set with 18 episodes sends Sam all over the world, but for the most part she stays in our own backyard. I mean, the focus of this show is for a "great weekend", so you can't exactly jet over to China for a nightcap (though I imagine that would be fun). The episodes contained in this collection are:
Orlando, New Orleans, Paris, Tuscany, London, Miami, Las Vegas, Cabo San Lucas, New Hampshire, Austin, Washington, D.C., Wyoming, Myrtle Beach, Santa Fe, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Cap Cod.
These aren't exactly in the order of their broadcast, but in all honesty this isn't the kind of show that needs that sense of continuity. Each episode stands alone since each trip is entirely separate and non-referential to the others. I mean, if you're spending the weekend in New Hampshire you don't really need to talk about what you did in London, do you?
There's also not a whole lot of structure to the episodes either. Sam basically arrives at a location on Friday evening, explores the place, sees some sites, grabs some food, and leaves on Sunday. In between she has all kind of bargain tips and suggestions for what to do. There are many freebies out there such as the changing of the guard in London, rollerblading through the streets of Paris, and walking the strip in Vegas. Each episode contains at least a few cheap things to do, but there is also a fine balance of higher end stuff as well. You should see the dinner she has in the Vegas episode poolside at the Wynn. It's utterly and insane spread. While we're on the subject of the Vegas episode I want to throw out honorable mention to Samantha dancing like a stripper with the Pussycat Dolls. She definitely shows off her wild side!
Passport to Great Weekends is a simple show that is very successful with what it intends to do. It gives viewers a brief glimpse at various locations across the globe and offers up more reasons to love Samantha Brown (and what's not to love?). Her personality drives this show and makes it as entertaining as it is, but it's the things to see and amount of information that will undoubtedly appeal to prospective travelers. If you have the travel bug or are just a Travel Channel junkie, consider this set strongly recommended. It's a great season of the show overall and it will leave you wanting more.
Passport to Great Weekends is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show looks on par with what you'd expect of a travel series such as this, and in all honesty it doesn't look any better or worse than the broadcast. The quality varies throughout this release and while there are plenty of decent moments the picture does contain an intense amount of film grain and features heavy interlacing. These flaws aren't quite enough to ruin the show, but they definitely leave something to be desired and can be quite distracting at times. Then again I suppose this show is directed more towards casual observers rather than those of us obsessed with how a series looks on a high end television.
Likewise the 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo is suitable for the material, but not exactly something you're going to use to showcase your home theater. It's a straightforward and somewhat flat presentation that is more serviceable than flashy. This is perfectly fine for a series such as this and as it stands the audio is clean and free of distortion, which is a definite plus. No subtitle tracks are available.
Sadly there are no bonus features for this release of Passport to Great Weekends. Some behind the scene shots, an interview with Samantha, or deleted scenes would have been appreciated, but alas we receive nothing.
If you're addicted to the Travel Channel, love Samantha Brown, and are looking for ideas for nice little getaways, Passport to Great Weekends is easily recommended. It's a fun little show that is successful with what it intends to do and the 18 episodes of the first season are definitely worth watching. The DVD does miss the mark with regards to its presentation and with the total lack of extra features, but if you're coming to the series you're most likely just coming for the show itself. Recommended