Season 3 of AMC’s travel series Ride with Norman Reedus begins by working as a subtle advertisement for the network’s biggest (though declining) hit, The Walking Dead. And why wouldn’t it? Now that Reedus is the ostensible star of the zombie series, taking over for the sort-of departed for Andrew Lincoln, whose Rick Grimes character is reportedly going to be be the focus of a number of Walking Dead “films,” it’s fitting that he would also step into the role of the show’s ambassador, even if it’s at a less-than-primetime time slot. But still, even if Ride airs at midnight, it’s nevertheless an interesting glimpse into the passions and personalities that drive AMC’s biggest hit to date.
This new season doubles down on Reedus’ ability to attract noteworthy guests to a show that is, ostensibly, less a passion project than it is a project about his passion. But, as with the first two seasons, the travelogue aspect of Ride is just one the more interesting aspects of the series, with Reedus serving as a mix of amiable host, eager explorer, and representative of motorcycle culture. It’s that last angle that allows the series to stand out among the crowd of other travel — usually food-based — docuseries on television today. The emphasis on bikes and their appeal isn’t quite as universal as, say, the desire to experience different cultures through their cuisines and customs, but it is unique enough that even those who aren’t ardent motorcyclists, or don’t have even a passing interest in two-wheeled excursions, can still find something interesting in the series.
The season 3 premiere, ‘England: A Walking Dead Reunion’ is a busy hour of television, even by the standards of most travelogue shows. Ride isn’t too terribly interested in getting into the minute or deeply personal details of the areas it’s exploring, or even the people with whom its host shares the ride, but by keeping its focus on the surface of things the series finds it can overstuff an episode like this without necessarily weighing it down. The big draw of ‘England’ isn’t really the sights of London and the English countryside; it’s the fact that Reedus is joined on his journey by returning guest Jeffrey Dean Morgan, while Andrew Lincoln makes a brief appearance when the two stop by the home of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, who happens to be Lincoln’s father-in-law.
The appeal of Ride, then, is remarkably different from, say, the likes of Parts Unknown or Richard Ayoade’s irreverent Travel Man, and is instead more like Ewan McGregor’s similarly themed Long Way Round — which gets some lip service here when Round co-star Charley Boorman stops by to chat with Reedus and Morgan at a local pub. The pleasure in watching the series isn’t so much the fascination with the location, but rather in the journey that lies ahead of the destination. Some of the best parts of the series are simply shots of Reedus and his pals driving through city streets or on long stretches of highway, remarking on small details they see along they way or simply expressing pleasure in being out on the road.
‘England’ does offer more than just Reedus and Morgan tearing up the asphalt, though, as the two make a few pitstops along way. After the aforementioned pub, the two find themselves at a farm — one of Morgan’s personal passions, as Reedus informs the audience — which makes for a quick bit of fun and a photo op with a baby goat before they’re back on the road, making their way to Stonehenge. Again, the series doesn’t get too deep into the details of the areas it tours, but to Ride’s credit, it does find time to speak with an expert on the ancient landmark, if only to dispel Reedus’ hopes that it was built by extraterrestrials.
Perhaps the most interesting portion of the season 3 premiere is when Reedus and Morgan stop by the unusual home of Elspeth Beard, an architect and motorcyclist, who has the distinction of being the first English woman to travel the world solo on a motorcycle. This bit of history is uniquely well suited to the series's original conceit, and Reedus and Morgan are clearly impressed. Given Beard’s accomplishments and her knowledge of the subject, seeing the series spend more time with her would have been ideal, but it’s understandable that the show (and its network overlords) would like to have plenty of time for the boys to hang out with Lincoln on his father-in-law’s enormous farm.
The obvious network synergy doesn’t overshadow the camaraderie between the Walking Dead stars, as the ease and with which they interact with one another is appealing in the sense that the audience is being welcomed behind a curtain of celebrity. Watching Reedus, Morgan, Lincoln, and Anderson enjoy tea and crumpets is the absolute antithesis of their usual onscreen adventures, which also caps off a slight but enjoyable hour of travel television.
Ride with Norman Reedus continues next Sunday with ‘Bay Area with Steven Yeun’ @12am on AMC.