In the 2000s, I’d often turn to reruns of The Golden Girls to keep me company in my studio apartment, and to the Travel Channel to transport me someplace else. Whether I was watching Samantha Brown explore Great Hotels, learning from Anthony Bourdain’s curiosity on No Reservations, or just watching a glorified infomercial about holiday decorating at Walt Disney World, I felt like I was traveling from my couch.
Today, I’d only tune in to the Travel Channel if I wanted the shit scared out of me. That’s not because I’m scared of ghosts, but because I’m terrified that the network has been completely taken over by non-stop paranormal TV. Travel Channel has completely stopped exploring the world, and now just pretends to see things that don’t exist.
There are certainly plenty of other great travel reality TV shows, and some appalling ones too, but what I think I’ve really missed are the light and airy travel reality TV of Great Hotels or Xtreme Waterparks: just a quick dip into another place for a moment, that maybe gives me an idea of a place I’d like to visit someday. (For the record, the original Travel Channel shows are on Discovery+ now, under the Travel Channel section, after you scroll past “Ghost Encounters,” “Unexplained Phenomena,” “Mysteries,” and “Legends & Monsters.”)
Thankfully, Netflix has just premiered two brand-new shows that deliver exactly what I’ve been missing: The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals and Fresh, Fried, and Crispy each have quick, roughly half-hour episodes that are perfect little escapes via the TV. My reviews and overviews of each show are below.
Fresh, Fried, and Crispy is a warm bath in canola oil
On Fresh, Fried, and Crispy, Daymon Scott “Daym” Patterson—who’s known as Daym Drops on YouTube, where he is “the face of fast food,” as he describes himself—travels the United States. In each city, he tries some of its best fried food, interacting with chefs and tasting what they’ve made. It’s a show more in the tradition of Diners, Dive-Ins, and Drives than No Reservations, but it’s very effective.
The cinematography of the cities and people looks great, but it’s the way the food and frying is photographed that made me drool immediately and want to go splash my face with canola oil. There are the requisite slow-motion shots of food, but grease splatter has never been so sexy. Just wait until a something battered is dropped into a vat of oil, immediately surrounded by bubbles, or sparkles as it’s lifted out of hot fat. There’s also an occasional shot of a cross-section of what looks like a glass fryer filmed in a studio. It’s b-roll, but manages to make floating in scalding oil look quite appealing.
The show works because of Daym Drops, whose looks of ecstasy as he eats communicate exactly what we need to know about how the food tastes. Watching other people eat—and listening to them chew, especially—isn’t my favorite pastime, but his pleasure and enthusiasm for food and people is infectious, whether he’s eating or asking questions. There isn’t much by way of a takeaway besides the existence of these places, but I certainly enjoyed being introduced to them.
That’s in part because there’s a lot of playfulness. In the first episode, Daym Drops holds up arancini—a fried ball with risotto, rice and cheese—to the camera, which focuses on it. “See this little power squeeze that I’m giving that thing right there? That interior right there is gonna be all type of flavor for my face and I think [clicks tongue] I’m ready for it.” At his second stop in St. Louis, a vegan bakery, he gets emotional about a vegan chicken sandwich. “That chicken shouldn’t be that good,” he says, pretending to walk off the set. “Ain’t no way in the world vegan food tastes this good.” But it does taste that good, and Daymon makes sure we understand and experience it alongside him, even while watching TV.
World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals visits luxury, budget, and unique properties
The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals follows three people as they tour and stay overnight at three different places in each episode. There’s not a hotel nor a chain restaurant in sight, but they make all of their visits and experiences feel accessible, comfortable, and appealing.
Our three hosts are former Million Dollar Listing: New York cast member Luis D. Ortiz and YouTubers/social media influencers Jo Franco and Megan Batoon. The credits introduce Megan’s expertise as “design,” Jo as “travel,” and Luis as “real estate,” but in every episode, each of them introduces one property: a luxury location from Luis, a “unique” property from Jo, and a budget property from Megan.
The series is beautifully photographed, from interiors to the views, offering attainable real estate porn, since all of these places are ostensibly rentable. (Whether their availability and prices stay the same after international exposure on Netflix remains to be seen; a disclaimer at the end of every episode even warns viewers—well, those who stick around to watch all of the credits—that “Prices, availability, and property amenities subject to change at any time.”)
The first episode, “Best of Bali,” focuses on three places in Bali, but most of the other episodes are themed, so they criss-cross countries or the world to visit different places. That’s an unfortunate choice, as the Bali episode was by far my favorite, just because of the way it showed different parts of the same area, and I was hoping for more of that. Instead, the other episodes are a little disorienting, flinging us around the world, such as from Japan to Mexico to Massachusetts.
The episodes are quick, but while there isn’t a whole lot of depth, The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals managed to make me feel like I spent a night in each location, and learned something about the property and the community. There is a lot of information packed into its 32- or 34-minutes, from prices to local activities. Some of that is delivered in the moment and some via voice-over, and there’s even more information from on-screen notes, which are sometimes useful and sometimes not (“95 percent of American travelers want a unique food experience”).
But The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals effectively transported me to these places. I especially appreciated its focus on highlighting travel that doesn’t involve chain hotels, just as I appreciated how Fresh, Fried, and Crispy highlights family-owned restaurants and local institutions instead of trips to McDonalds. Not that there’s anything wrong with chain hotels or McDonalds, but the world has so much more to offer than just the familiar and predictable. While the TV shows are not exactly breaking new ground, I’m glad they both exist to highlight places that will likely be new to most viewers.
There is absolutely no sign of the hell the world has been through the past 18 months in either show—I’m not actually sure when they were filmed, since there’s not a mask in sight in any of the episodes I watched—but that allowed the places to be both aspirational and within reach. When people are fully vaccinated and feel comfortable being back on the road, both shows give us something to try, or at least something engaging to watch when we need a quick escape.
Fresh, Fried, and Crispy
Daym Drops’ enthusiasm for food and the people who make it is infectious. B+
World’s Most Amazing Travel Destinations
Transports us off the beaten path to gorgeous travel destinations. B+