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While roaming the streets of Istanbul, actor and “adventurer” Jack Maxwell, host of the Travel Channel’s new original series Booze Traveler, stops and considers: “It’s 4 p.m. If I was back in Boston, I’d be sitting down at the bar for happy hour.” Instead, he settles for a whirlwind tour of Turkey’s drinking traditions, cementing Booze Traveler as a booze-hound’s dream vacation.
Maxwell, a former South Boston bartender, crosses the world over the course of 15 hourlong episodes, in search of interesting drinks and the interesting folks who drink them. With the help of a local guide in each locale (only the first, Turkey, was available for review), Maxwell explores the country’s customs through a constant refrain that ranges from “I could use a drink,” to “let’s go drink,” and the occasional tenuous tie-in with history: “I’m not here for a conquest, I’m here for a cocktail.”
Not all of what Maxwell tastes are alcoholic beverages, like poppy syrup or Boza (which has a fluctuating alcohol content). “There’s no chance of getting high off this, though — there’s no booze,” he laments about the poppies. But it doesn’t take Maxwell long to find someone to spike the punch, as it were, and all is right again, as he sets off in search of his next party.
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It’s a tall order to have a series based completely on one relatively unknown host whose voice is a constant, both as a narrator and on camera. Maxwell is affable, but on Booze Traveler, both the talking and the drinking are nonstop. The best moments are when Maxwell lets others speak for themselves (at least, through translation), without him interpreting for the sake of the show’s theme. Through his lens, any food automatically becomes a remedy for a hangover, and cultural revolution goes hand in hand with alcohol consumption (so does cirrhosis of the liver, which jarringly gets a short and somber mention during one gathering).
For those interested in the nuances of international alcohol consumption and the customs of acceptable day-drinking, Booze Traveler is, as The Band might describe it, “a drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one.” But Maxwell’s constant chatter can be grating, and the party-hard attitude not as appealing as the history and customs Maxwell happens across on his travels — particularly a question in Turkey about why a Muslim country has such a healthy drinking culture. But Booze Traveler‘s (fittingly) unsteady camera and full-tilt pace don’t leave much room for deeper exploration. There’s another drink that needs to be consumed — it is, per Maxwell, 4 o’clock somewhere.
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