July 06, 1987 12:00 PM

PBS (Tuesdays until Aug. 18, 9 p.m. ET)


I confess that I rolled my eyes when the man called offering me a chance to watch South American Journey. Goody, another documentary from the Public Boredcasting System. But it’s summer. I’m desperate for shows. Sure, I said, send me a sample. I watched an hour. I watched another. Then I recanted my nasty thoughts, called the man back and begged to see all eight hours. South American Journey is downright spectacular—better than I ever imagined a documentary could be. Go to any bookstore’s travel department, find the South American section—if you can—and you’ll see proof that the continent closest to ours is the one we know the least about. That’s part of Journey’s appeal: its newness. But the mini’s real appeal comes from its engaging host and writer, Jack Pizzey, a British journalist who spent a year traveling to seven countries to make these shows for Australian TV. Pizzey energizes his facts with his sharp eye, wit and attitude—then softens the edges with his charm. He gives you a continent alive. In one show, he watches a Brazilian soap-opera superstar as she plays nothing but happy endings, and he comes away with a strong opinion: In South America, he says, soaps are the opiate of the mass audience. In his first show, Pizzey bluntly begins: “If somebody said, ‘South America,’ one of the first things you probably think of is dictators. Why have they had so many?” In Bolivia, a land that had 186 rulers in 150 years, then Chile, a land now run by a dictator, Pizzey finds his answers in odd places, like a hotel desk where he has to pay his bill with a bagload of devalued cash. In other shows Pizzey meets Incas drinking Inca Kola, travels to the dark guts of the Amazon where little old lady missionaries are translating the Bible into native tongues, and dines in Argentina, a country that lost its wealth and, for a time, its civil rights—but never its style. Some scenes are terrifying, like those depicting the drug-inspired violence of Colombia. Some scenes are hilarious, as when Pizzey learns to loosen his Anglo-Saxon hips for the samba in Rio’s carnival or the tango in Buenos Aires. Every show is masterfully written, photographed and edited. So don’t make the mistake I made: Don’t roll your eyes. Instead, glue them to the tube for a great Journey

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