On ITV’s The Wine Show (now available on Hulu) handsome clean-shaven Englishman Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey) and handsome bearded Welshman Matthew Rhys (The Americans) trade banter while sipping Moscato and Merlot in an Italian villa, part of their telegenic quest to “understand more about this marvelous drink.” Unlike a cooking show, where you can actually see the food being discussed, the swirling and swallowing of a translucent liquid is not particularly interesting for the non-oenophiles among us, but I suspect that’s not why most people will watch The Wine Show. Rather, I suspect most of us, particularly us North Americans, are watching for the same reason the show was green-lit in the first place: the two hunky Matthews, and their charming, adorable, squee-worthy, crush-inducing Englishness. What are we? A continent of Taylor Swifts, mired in an enduring love affair with a string of Styleses and Harrises and Hiddlestons?
I am sorry to report it, chums, but English accents aren’t quite enough to make The Wine Show’s corked vintage palatable (for reference, I was born in England and spent my childhood there before moving to Canada, in case you were wondering about my bona fides as a self-flagellating Brit). Unlike Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s excellent traveling banter-fest The Trip — which The Wine Show clearly cribs from, James Bond impressions and all — Rhys and Goode simply aren’t entertaining enough to carry the show. 80 percent of the banter on this show is just terrible punning, wordplay that certainly wouldn’t get a pass coming from a less appealing (read: less English) hosting duo. Some examples, all courtesy of Rhys (who I adore on The Americans, but alas):
• Joe Fattorini: “It’s a power tool.”
Rhys: “Is that what you’re calling me these days?”
• [On seeing a wine decanter] “We go from a light walk into a trot into decanter.”
• [On seeing a bottle of wine called Vida Nova] “This one is owned by Ricky Martin, he’s drinking the Vida Nova.”
Other than the puns, there is very little humor here. Rather, the Matthews rely mostly on quaint exclamations — “Blimey O’ Reilly!” “Knock me down with a feather!” — and twee prep-school nicknames — Rhysey, Goodsey, and “Obi Wine Kenobi” for their wine guru Fattorini — as weapons in their English charm offensive. Bafflingly, it seems to work. Before the show even came out in the States, the trailer was feted with countless adoring reviews, almost all of which made reference to the Matthews’ oh-so-charming Britishness. (Willa Paskin’s Slate pan is a rare and refreshing dissent). I’m exhausted by this persistent North American tendency to fetishize aspects of British culture, particularly our enduring obsession with upper-crust, Shakespeare-quoting old Etonians with family crests on their cuff links (no matter the ugly and enduring classism that lies beneath this dapper veneer).
I’m not just talking about how much North Americans love the royals, which reached its self-parodying extreme with I Want to Marry Harry, where unwitting American women were courted by a man who they thought was Prince Harry (he was, sadly, just a run-of-the-mill ginger). It extends beyond that — from Downton Abbey mania, to our obsession with British actors (Cumberbatch, Hiddleston, and all those other white boys with silly names), to our tendency to find boorish, uncharismatic louts charming just because of their accents (Jimmy on You’re The Worst — I just don’t get it, I’m sorry). Otherwise astute critics tend to melt into gushing fangirls and fanboys when they hear so much as a “shucks” or a “blimey.” For instance: The Stateside obsession with the twee trifle that is The Great British Baking Show. Here’s the L.A. Times on why it’s worth watching: “Because you love accents. Because you love English vernacular. Because you love puns, especially British ones.”
To be fair, Brits also love The Great British Baking Show (titled The Great British Bake Off in England), so it’s not just North Americans who fetishize the idea of some essential, enduring Britishness (arguably a more innocuous outpouring of the same nostalgic nativism that undergirded Brexit). As Tom Whyman writes in the Times, British national identity has largely disappeared, living on only in empty signifiers like gin, cricket, sponge cake, and — I would argue — two handsome blokes in fedoras making bad puns and sipping wine in an Umbrian villa. For Whyman, The Great British Baking Show is “the the exact distillation of everything awful about the British home-counties middle-class way of life that, for whatever dreadful sins I committed in a previous existence, I was born into.” Being born into it is one thing; choosing it over and over again is quite another. And when it comes to Rhysey, Goodsey, and The Wine Show team, I’m casting my “leave” ballot and not looking back.