'Around the World in 80 Days" (2021) - TV Review

The story is a well-known one: Phileas Fogg (David Tennant) lives his life like clockwork, spending every day at the Reform Club reading the paper. One day an article by his friend's daughter Abigail Fix Fortescue (Leonie Benesch) about a railroad completed in India makes him conclude - out loud - that it would now be possible to travel around the world in 80 days. His obnoxious friend Bellamy (Peter Sullivan) says that even if it were possible, Fogg certainly couldn't do it ... and Fogg makes a £20,000 bet (an immense amount of money in 1870s Britain) that he can. He hires Passpartout (Ibrahim Koma) as a servant for the trip, and Abigail joins them to document the adventure.

At this point they've already been a number of changes from Jules Verne's original story: "Fix" was originally a police man who accompanied them rather than a reporter, so the character has changed gender and profession. Second, Passpartout, while still French, is now of African descent. Both of these things (her gender, his colour) would have presented far greater problems travelling the world at the time than they bothered to mention. They did discuss it a bit, but not realistically.

Putting that aside, I cannot fault Tennant, Benesch, or Koma: they were each lovely in the role they had been given. That's not where the problem lies. Each of the eight episodes is a super glossy story of a time and place: 1) England and France, 2) Italy, 3) Aden, 4) India, 5) Hong Kong, 6) a small island in the Pacific, 7) the U.S., 8) the U.S. and U.K. In each episode they face difficulties either physical or personal that stretch each of them to their limits, etc. And all of this is as Verne intended. But it all seemed too perfectly formed, too cleanly episodic to me, for a trip around the world. And it all really fell apart in the sixth episode, when we see Fogg held at gun-point on their steam ship across the Pacific by a man who wants their trip to fail. Through the magic of television, we flash forward to the three of them in a small boat on a huge ocean. Wait, what? The bad guy was threatening Fogg, and only Fogg: he went and collected the other two as well on an ocean liner with people everywhere? Why not just strand Fogg? And then our heroes in their tiny boat are threatened by bad weather ... and click, we jump forward again to the three of them re-uniting after the crash of the boat. But the bad editing and bad writing don't stop there: we're given to understand that the island is tiny, and their only hope is to make a raft of drift wood. And yet there are Durians. Durians grow on TREES. Large trees.

It's beautifully produced, and has some lovely moments. For the most part, the inner voyages of the three main characters (as each struggles with their own beliefs and limitations) is fairly good. But I had problems with a lot of the details.