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Airdate: Wednesday June 4, 9-9:30 p.m., Sundance Channel.
This is one of those shows that you watch and assume you’ve missed something, only to wake up when it’s over and realize that no, it’s about them and not you.
Sundance Channel’s “On the Road in America” — not at all to be confused with anything involving the late, great Charles Kuralt — is being promoted as something of a travelogue documenting the experiences of four young adults of Muslim-Arabic descent as they wend their way across the U.S. in a luxury RV. But based on the episodes supplied for review, the 12-parter is more of a disjointed, disconnected series of character-themed photo essays than anything else. Because this has the Sundance brand name behind it, there is a presumed veneer of quality. But the intelligence here turns out to be more theoretical than actual, and any genuine insight is fleeting, an inadvertent sidelight to a program that seems to know precisely where it’s going but doesn’t feel obliged to let the audience in on it.
Evidently, some sort of profound insight was supposed to materialize while witnessing this eye-opening cross-country jaunt. Instead, just when a good culturally profound point is about to be made, producer-director-writer Jerome Gary switches gears to show a picture of the morning dew on the trees of Central Park or the sun bouncing off the Lincoln Memorial. We grasp no consistent focus or flow while bopping around with 22-year-old Egyptian student Ali Amir, Saudi student Sanad Al Kubaissi, passionate Palestinian-turned-Beirut resident Lara Abou Saifan and Jordanian-born Mohamed Abou-Ghazal, 27.
As “On the Road” was shot some two years ago in summer 2006, some of it feels just a tad out of date as Lara defiantly attacks Israel for acts perpetrated months and months ago. That unfortunate production shortcoming might be unavoidable, but the inability of the program to erect any kind of unifying theme isn’t. It leaves us perplexed as to what the point of all of this is even supposed to be. Mind you, the portion where Lara goes off on the Israeli occupation proves the show’s single most intriguing element, as it least it’s about something authentic and tangible. Too much of the rest is a mishmash of snippets that doesn’t really further our understanding of our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters but does assist our comprehension of documentary pitfalls.
More unfiltered opinion and fewer production flourishes would have better served the series. But then, it probably wouldn’t have been deemed worthy of Sundance, which has an unfortunate tendency to sometimes reward style over substance.
Layalina Prods. in association with Visionaire Media. Cast: Ali Amir, Sanad Al Kubaissi, Lara Abou Saifan, Mohamed Abou-Shazal. Executive producers: Gary and Leon Shahabian; Producers: Maggie Young. Producer-director-writer: Jerome Gary; Cinematographer: Guy Livneh; Editor: Maha Haddad; Composer: Shelby Gaines.
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