The AMC reality series “Ride With Norman Reedus” appears to be an entirely new sub-genre of television: fan-driven, multiple-niche, demographic crossover.
Reedus, of course, plays fan favorite Daryl Dixon on “The Walking Dead,” a character who, as Reedus points out during the “Ride With” pilot, defies all zombie fighting logic by riding a motorcycle. (Motorcycles make noise, he explains, and zombies are attracted to noise.)
The actor is an equally devoted bike lover and, what with TV’s current infatuation with personal transport (“Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” “Carpool Karaoke”), a show in which he and a weekly cast of fellow enthusiasts explore motorcycle culture, road food and offbeat attractions along some of this country’s most scenic byways seems only natural.
(That millions of “Walking Dead” fans may watch only to reassure themselves that Daryl was not the one killed during the season finale had nothing, I’m sure, to do with the timing.)
And for all the obvious self-serving PR it provides AMC’s zombie franchise, “Ride With Norman Reedus” is an instantly appealing series, possibly more so for those who care deeply about motorcycles, but also for those who might be interested to know that there’s an Airstream motel in Santa Barbara or who want to experience the regional color of, say, Pismo Beach, Pahrump, Nev., or Asheville, N.C.
“Easy Rider” meets Huell Howser, “Top Gear” meets “Sons of Anarchy” by way of Lonely Planet— there are a million ways to describe it, but, in the end, the show’s greatest pleasure, and genuine cultural contribution, could be characterized by the subtitle: “A Famous Guy’s Guide to Not Being a Jerk.”
Reedus’ Daryl is, at this point, a pop culture icon, known for his taciturn nature, his crossbow, his hair and his unfailing ability to get the job done. Reedus too is a man of few words and gaze-interfering hair (some of the “Ride With” episodes were shot while last season’s “Walking Dead” was still in production), but he is an engaged and engaging guide.
Sure, there’s a lot of “let’s do it” and “that’s amazing” or “this is so beautiful,” and not every side excursion is as interesting as it may have seemed in the editing room (doughnuts in the desert are not as much fun to watch as they are to do). But the show admirably swings for the poetic democracy of the most famous road-trip chronicles and it succeeds more often than you might think it would.
The first episode begins in Los Angeles, where Reedus says “it all started” for him, but he spends way more time in Long Beach before heading up PCH to Santa Cruz with his friend Imogen Lehtonen. A native of New Zealand, Lehtonen runs a family jewelry shop and met Reedus on a ride through the South; at one point, when he is surrounded by fans at a bike shop they visit, she wonders aloud if she’s the only person in the world to never see “The Walking Dead.”
It’s a funny moment and quickly sets a certain aspect of the show’s tone. Reedus neither avoids nor incites fan reactions. He is far more interested in, say, learning about electric motorcycles or doing a podcast with fellow bikers in Santa Cruz, but he is happy to sign autographs or admire a zombie tattoo.
In subsequent episodes he rolls from Las Vegas to Death Valley and from Atlanta along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville. Some of his companions are famous — Balthazar Getty accompanies him to Death Valley and Peter Fonda is scheduled to show up at some point — but more often they are not, and like many niche-topic shows, from “Ice Road Truckers” to “Storage Wars,” “Ride With” offers the audience glimpses of people and places rarely seen on scripted television. (Let’s hear it for the Fontana Dam, people!)
There is an undeniable “Sunset Magazine’s Top Ten Rides” feel to the show at times, but the people Reedus visits, the bike builders and restorers, are almost always interesting and clearly thrilled to be talking with him about their mutual obsession.
That he’s equally thrilled is what sells the show.
The laid-back enthusiasm, curiosity and courtesy with which Reedus approaches the road and the people he encounters on it is not just a welcome change from all the intentionally provocative and/or aggressively folksy trends of reality television.
It’s a reminder that the really cool people are the ones interested in the world around them.
‘Ride with Norman Reedus’
When: 10 p.m. Sunday
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