wed 12/08/2020

Worst Place To Be A Pilot, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Worst Place To Be A Pilot, Channel 4

Worst Place To Be A Pilot, Channel 4

Fascinating and original concept only partially ruined by condescending direction

Watch out, captain, they'll have you in their pot!

Since Big Brother, Channel 4 has become expert at selecting naively self-promoting members of the public, and rubbing their unsuspecting apple cheeks into choice and unsavoury anatomical and psychological corners, for general public amusement. The title of this series suggests only a cosmetic variation on that theme, the question merely being whether it’s Islamists, Russian separatists or the weather that gets them first.

In fact, the surprise of this series so far (though there’s still time for disaster...) is how lovely everything is. The scenery is unspeakably beautiful, they’re doing some exciting flying, and as ex-pats, their lives are cosseted to a degree that would be impossible at home. Several of the pilots noted the satisfaction in bringing previously isolated communities crucial supplies. That’s not a feeling you get flying Luton-Malaga, presumably.

Susi appeared to be a cuddly, likeable entrepreneur, someone you’d rather be stuck in a lift with than, say, Michael O’Leary

Susi Air, an enterprising small airline running a network of routes between mainly remote and treacherous airstrips, recruits young western pilots left jobless by the recession, and the combination of the ambitious though often eccentric pilots pressed nose-to-the-glass against both ancient tribal Indonesia and her new, thrusting businesses, has everything great TV needs. The only question is whether the series makes all it could of its superb premise.

The format is still too reality-driven, with naggingly pointless updates on the bleeding obvious every couple of minutes, most tiresomely that Indonesia is a dangerous place to fly, and that the pilots all want jobs on commercial airlines. This last point was baffling. Is Susi Air some sort of clandestine Maoist operation? We never saw money change hands, and though Susi appeared to be a cuddly, likeable entrepreneur, someone you’d rather be stuck in a lift with than, say, Michael O’Leary, she was clearly making money, in a commercial way, from her business.

The pilots were mainly endearing characters, with sufficient curiosity and determination to adapt to some terrifying (if beautiful) landscape and hands-on job spec (co-pilots are responsible for cleaning up bodily fluids mislaid during turbulence, as well as handling security threats). Nonetheless, the reality format that obsessed over their foibles while telling us next to nothing about the Indonesian tribal societies being transformed before our eyes, was selling us short.

'Back home I’d be with an absolute munter,' said pilot Dave, in a resounding tribute to the women of Birmingham

And what the programme did tell us was patronisingly narrow, obsessing about an apparent case of cannibalism from the Sixties whenever a traditionally-dressed Indonesian was in shot. The programme-makers’ cultural attitudes came mainly from Victorian children’s fiction, while the Indonesians, who good-humouredly dismissed the enquiries about cannibalism, were playing the grown-up role. Though the pilots themselves seemed open-minded and respectful, it was difficult to banish a faint impression of colonialism, seeing white men in epaulettes being mollycoddled by the locals.

Inevitably, this also applied to sexual relations. “Back home I’d be with an absolute munter,” said pilot Dave, in a resounding tribute to the women of Birmingham. His Indonesian stewardess girlfriend seemed aware of being short-changed in the beauty stakes, commenting on Dave’s “Buddha belly”, though the alluring prospect of a Birmingham curry (a delicacy, she believed) was sufficient for her to stick around.

Quite how Channel 4 struck upon such a superb concept, when the direction was at times so witless, was perhaps the programme’s biggest mystery. It had that rarest of qualities, moments of genuine originality, and for that, despite the whiff of Victorian missionary school, it’s well worth making a date for.

It has that rarest of qualities, moments of genuine originality, despite the whiff of Victorian missionary school

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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