The Best of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends Review
Yes it's factual programme making, but Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends has made its success off the back of existing in a world where the real, the fictional and the surreal clash head-on, and the boundaries have eroded completely. Our man Louis has a natural advantage over someone like Michael Moore; the English accent is a dangerous weapon to the majority of American citizens, and Louis can probe further than most.
Starting life as a journalist reporting on news columns concerning quirky American abnormalities, Louis was signed by the BBC to front his Weird Weekends show format. The show had Theroux and a small camera crew actively participated in the wacky, bizarre American sub-cultures that seem alien to most of the British world. What made it compulsive viewing on late night BBC2 was Louis' ability to effortless crawl under the skin of his interviewee victims. Americans, or at least the ones depicted in the show, show a complete inability to detect any form of Louis' biting sarcasm, he's perceived as a genuinely sweet-natured and naïve soul genuinely interested in his subjects. Far from it, Louis Theroux is a cunning swine, acting in front of his subjects; lulling them into the falsest sense of security as he attempts to break down every personal barrier that erect before the camera. It's as if Louis' only rule of interviewing is to subvert any rule his subjects try to impose. As a viewer, this is very easy to detect, but the humour arises from his subjects being completely oblivious to his subtle and penetrative methods.
Since Weird Weekends has developed a cult audience, Louis himself has graduated to celebrities, and unfortunately the material has since suffered. You sense that Louis has lost his secret subversive weapons. The celebrities are all too informed about his cunning and alluring interview devices, and they are always all too willing to make Louis work for his money. That is why this DVD is a good collection, as it focuses mainly on Louis' assaults into the woodwork of American society, and presents us with a biting, yet deeply amusing insight into a world we ourselves may never witness.
Out of the sixteen Weird Weekends episodes, four are presented on this DVD, with an extra bonus in the form of the special episode in which Louis met Jimmy Saville, and was put through his paces to the harshest extreme. The only pity is that some of the series' best moments are absent. The episode in which Louis infiltrates a swingers community was by far the series' highlight, and rumours are that the episode wasn't allowed a release due to contractual differences somewhere along the line. Other episodes noteworthy by their absence range from Louis focusing on televangelists and religious cults to Louis highlighting the fake world of wrestling. It seems there isn't a self-contained world where Louis fears to tread.
Out of the four episodes featured on this DVD, the subjects are widely contrasting. Louis tackles the Porn Industry; a group of people hiding away in the deepest reaches that call themselves Survivalists; Gangsta Rappers in the American south; and UFOs, in which Louis chats to people who claim to have been in contact with alien beings. It's amazing viewing, Louis manages to dig a tunnel under the social walls and emerge deep within the cultures he studies. It's certainly a testament to his interviewee skills that he can discuss with a straight porn actor the problems of participating in a gay sex scene in one episode, and then hang out with a gun-toting bigot in another. Louis is the ultimate hanger-on - he can attach himself to any group without appearing as a threat, and can 'steal' information whilst rendering his subjects none the wiser.
However, whilst we sit at home and laugh at the subjects on screen, who are mocked apparently due to their ignorance to Louis' ferociously subtle persona, one cannot help but notice just how unnecessary our TV-consumer society is to the groups of people featured in Weird Weekends. Each group encapsulates the concept of self-sufficiency - they couldn't care less that we are laughing at them because they exist solely to serve their own agenda. Anyone who doesn't share their ideology might as well not exist, and this applies to people that Louis meets across the board, be it porn stars or UFO sightseers.
Whilst not a comprehensive set of the classic Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends episodes that have been aired, this still remains a pleasant alternative night's viewing, something that can actually inform as well as entertain. Surprisingly rich with warmth and genuine humour, combined with an absurd dose of surreal American behaviour, Weird Weekends remains as one of the best observed little treats to hit our television screens.
Presented in fullscreen, the picture quality is close to broadcast quality, although artefacting and grain are easily detectable in some of the night-time sequences shown. Colours are slightly faded, and edge enhancement is certainly present, but this is still a decent and very watchable presentation of the series.
Presented in stereo, the sound is mostly mono due to the documentary style of filming, but the soundtrack is backed mostly in stereo, and the recording is as clear as it is likely to sound, even if at times it is unrefined and lacking in depth.
Menu: A groovy, swinging menu focusing on the same style of the show's title sequence, equipped with portions of the theme tune.
Packaging: A cardboard fold-out sleeve that houses the two discs, contained in a cardboard dust-cover. Production Notes written by Louis Theroux are featured on two sides of the fold-out packaging.
When Louis Met Jimmy: One of Louis' first tastes of interviewing a bona fide celebrity, this programme is solely devoted to Louis' interviews with Sir Jimmy Saville. Jimmy knows how to knock Interviewers off guard, and handles Theroux by restricting access to any of his close personal secrets and by accentuating Louis' failed attempts at trying to prove. It's often hard to tell who is the real victim out of Louis or Jimmy. Our interviewer is often stripped bare and shown to be completely out of his depth, and at times Jimmy comes across as an asexual neurotic obsessive content to exist in his bizarre and fabricated world that he has planned to perfection. An interesting insight into the concept of celebrity, as Jimmy reveals some similarities with other cultures in Louis' Weird Weekends episodes, when it comes to justifying his own strange day-to-day existence, and demonstrating his passion for such a cause.
Louis Theroux And Jimmy Saville Video Commentary: Proving that they have surprisingly become friends since the show, Louis and Jimmy sit through the five episodes shown on this DVD release, discussing them with the benefit of hindsight. Whenever a symbol appears on the screen the viewer has the option to view a video snippet of the two talking about the events they are watching. It's interesting to note how Jimmy seems intent to compare the other Weird Weekends episodes to his own episode, often complaining how harshly he was treated by Louis compared to the other groups. Still, it's a fun extra, and very in keeping with the tone of Louis' shows.
Whilst it's a pity that some of the best episodes are missing, this reaches a status of being an interesting package for fans of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends by the inclusion of a good bonus episode in the form of the Jimmy Saville special. Also, the fun video commentary that is sporadically spread the DVD helps matters, and the picture and sound quality are decent if unexceptional. It’s an expensive release, but clearly worth picking up at the right price for anyone who favours a slightly alternative night's viewing compared to mainstream, peak-viewing television.