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Discover what it's like to holiday with a druglord's hitman in 'Dark Tourist'

Netflix's new docuseries takes armchair travellers to not-so-wholesome tourism spots: those associated with death and destruction

12 August 2018 - 00:00
David Farrier (left), who is a discount Louis Theroux, explores weird places in 'Dark Tourist'.
David Farrier (left), who is a discount Louis Theroux, explores weird places in 'Dark Tourist'.
Image: Netflix


WHAT: Dark Tourist, a docuseries that takes the viewer to not-so-wholesome tourism spots.

WHY CARE? It might not expand your mind, but it will give you a good chuckle



Travelling is good for you. All the poets, motivational speakers and Instagram celebrities agree that exploring exotic locales broadens the mind and does all kinds of fuzzy things for your psyche. This is why people watch travel shows, to get a glimpse of the strange ways in which other people live and thus feel a little worldlier without having to leave the comfort of their couch.

Actual travel costs an arm and an opposable thumb so, in theory, armchair passport stamp collection is a perfectly acceptable substitute. The problem, though, is that there are only so many times one can watch some variation of a British person (or American) cringe at the thought of eating live scorpions on his visit to China.

Enter the new Netflix show Dark Tourist, stage right.

The show centres on New Zealander David Farrier, who looks like a discount Louis Theroux, and his quest to find "dark tourism hotspots". These are places and activities around the world that would probably give your grandmother palpitations but make for a great bar story.

For example, the show's first episode finds David in Latin America engaging in a spot of narco-tourism with one of Pablo Escobar's former hitmen, faux border crossings that get a little too realistic and fraternising with a Mexican death cult. There are other episodes in which always awkward Dave swims in a radioactive lake in Turkmenistan, gets tortured by a jolly sadist in rural America and is blessed by a voodoo practitioner in Benin.

These, however, are simply appetisers for the main course.

WATCH | The trailer for Dark Tourist

If you are South African, start the series at episode seven - an adventure in which good ol' Dave visits a group of Christian fundamentalist Afrikaners convinced that a mass uprising of blacks is imminent. These are not the kind of scarily Aryan military precision types one usually associates with right-wing doomsday preppers. Nope. This is a bunch of elderly people with suspiciously "pure" bloodlines and comically overdeveloped threat glands (meaning they have an overdeveloped sense of danger). It is difficult to feel anything other than mirth watching this group of clearly delusional people go on about their days with melodramatic graveness.

In episode seven, Dave visits a group of Christian fundamentalist Afrikaners convinced that a mass uprising of blacks is imminent

As a host it is easy to try to draw parallels between Louis Theroux and David Farrier. They're both gangly white dudes who seem to enjoy the role of naive tourist who seem a little too earnest to be taken seriously. Farrier, however, is his own man and bears his own standard with all the grace of a dizzy stick insect. In so doing he makes the show fun. He's not a jokesmith and does not seem to be actively aiming for a humorous tone but it's where he consistently lands. He's too serious to be taken seriously.

But Farrier is not what makes the Dark Tourist interesting. The real fun of the show is that it is different. A lot of travel shows can be tedious because they take themselves a little too seriously. They become history lessons for people too bored to use Google and spend a lot of time in the same places doing similar things.

Dark Tourist attempts to break from that tradition by doing things and going places that most travellers would never dream of, for example visiting a country run by a dentist-turned-dictator who is the real-life version of what would happen if Mr Bean played a Bond villain.

Whether or not Dark Tourist expands your mind depends entirely on the elasticity of your brain when you lie down to watch it. What it is likely to do is give you a good chuckle watching a bunch of crackpots prepare for the prophesied uprising.