When The Long Way Up first came out on Apple TV a year or so ago, I noted that it looked interesting, but passed it over because I wasn’t very interested in motorcycles. I completely missed the point though and didn’t realize it’s more of a buddy travel show featuring electric vehicles and how interesting that in turn would be. On top of that, it features Ewan McGregor who on top of being a good actor, is fairly funny and seems like a genuinely nice guy interested in making the world a better place on several levels. With what ends up being a beautifully filmed journey through some of the most picturesque and interesting parts of South, Central, and North America all on electric bikes and trucks, it quickly became my favorite show of the year and one I couldn’t stop binging.
We just finished watching the last episode of the show and I wish they would do another. From the shifting scenery that goes from the epic Patagonia up the Andes through mountain lakes and salt flats through South America to the jungles and urban centers in Central America and Mexico, it’s an absolutely stunning travel show, and that’s only one dimension of it. Not only do they show incredible footage from drones and first person action cameras throughout the trip, but they actually focus on getting to know people along the whole journey whether fellow travelers on the road or the locals in the places they travel through.
The show is actually sort of a continuation of two other series where Ewan McGregor and his actor friend Charley Boorman take lengthy trips on motorcycles around the world to experience the sights and people up close. In the others, they had gone all the way across Asia and Europe. This one though is a bit different thanks to advances in technology both in accessible camera gear and in electric vehicles. In an attempt to lesson their impact and show what’s possible at this early stage in electric vehicle adoption, they switch to electric Harley Davidson prototype bikes and their support crew of producers actually take the first two Rivian electric pickup trucks with VINs all the way up the continent. This was filmed throughout early 2019, so they experience even more challenges with charging and the prototype vehicles than you’d expect now.
The early episodes focus a lot on the development and preparation of the vehicles which is interesting from an engineering standpoint and also to see how much both Harley Davidson and Rivian, which just went public and started delivering trucks to customers last year, have grown already. Unsurprisingly, they struggle early on in the trip with finding reliable chargers, especially in the remote region of Patagonia, and suffer pretty bad range loss in the cold as they get up into the Andes. Later on, these challenges seem to reduce and the show focusses a bit more on their travels through the high mountains including the Bolivian salt flats, Lake Titicaca, and Machu Pichu. There are also portions where they visit UNICEF (both actors are highly involved) programs, some researchers working on electrification and other environmental research and development.
There are some portions that feel a bit over dramatized, particularly the charging problems and toward the end, a concern about potential cartel activity and safety concerns in Mexico that results in them scrambling to prepare a bus to travel at night that while interesting while they race against time, never really connected to me in terms of why it was necessary or how it was actually making anything safer. The charging woes in the beginning feel a little detrimental to overall EV progress and adoption to me, but keeping in mind that it was filmed nearly three years ago which is a lifetime in EV development and adoption, makes it a bit more palatable. Considering that they are essentially field testing brand new prototypes, it’s not surprising that they run into some issues.
The show, like its Apple TV sibling, Ted Lasso, manages to strike a tone of optimism through the challenges and paints a bright picture of the future whether it’s for the positive benefit and the huge progress of EVs overall and the net benefit they’ll have on the world or showing how community projects are improving conditions for children in South America. It manages to not veer into preaching, and stays bright and optimistic, mainly through the rosy goggles of McGregor and Boorman’s viewpoints and general dispositions. It really makes me appreciate them both so much more knowing that they really do seem to walk the walk and live and breathe this optimism for humanity and the world.
The show also highlights the huge miss that Grand Tour has by turning a blind eye to Electric Vehicles. This show would have made a perfect Grand Tour special, even just a portion of the trip. Taking electric cars, especially those from different manufacturers with different charging network support and concerns would make very compelling viewing, yet they continue to focus on old gas cars from yesteryear in what feels now like a deliberate move due most likely to Clarkson and the producers' bias against what clearly the rest of the automotive industry has already decided to embrace or at least milk for publicity and profit. I understand that their fan base is largely of the petrol chugging variety, but with the winds already shifting around the world, I wish they would shift and embrace something similar. At worst for them, they’d be able to highlight all the challenges still.
But for now, The Long Way Up manages to capture a lot of what I like about Grand Tour. The hosts' energy and chemistry, the incredible drone shots of the landscape and the vehicles driving among it, the drama of the cars and bikes, and the overarching excitement of a long trip traversing countless miles. Even I, someone who has always claimed that motorcycles are pointless and had absolutely no interest in them, found the show compelling and find the Harley bikes super cool and would honestly try one out. I’m not sure I would ever become a biker person, but an electric motorcycle? Maybe.
The Rivians are the other really cool and interesting supporting stars of the show. While later relegated mostly to the background, they are featured early on and manage the off roading and long haul travel very well. Several employees from Rivian also make appearances from the founder who shows up at the beginning and end to technical support staff helping remotely to onsite mechanics who manage to save the day multiple times. Considering how early in the development and launch of their R1T pickup, the first electric pickup to actually hit the market ahead of Tesla and Ford, it’s incredible how invested in the show they were and how well these initial prototype trucks did. Even though the trucks have unfinished consoles and wires hanging all over the place, they make it through with no major software or reliability issues and even the charging goes much more smoothly for them than the bikes. Paired perfectly with their IPO and launch, the show got me super interested in Rivian and I believe they’re positioned now to be a major factor in the electric vehicle space, especially when their SUV comes out. I’ve got my eye on one to replace our family SUV already.
There’s no shortage of good TV across the streaming services, and not everyone might have Apple TV, but if you do, which you may not even realize if you’ve bought basically any Apple product in the past year or two, The Long Way Up is well worth the time. Even without being as deeply interested in electric vehicles, it makes a great travel show in a time when travel continues to be so difficult. It’s a feel good show about friendship and the things people are doing around the world to make it a better place while doing what they can to get by. While I mostly watched Science Fiction and Fantasy shows this year, The Long Way Up was probably the show I got the most out of and the one I found most compelling in painting a picture of the world around us. If you have any interest at all in electric vehicles, give it a shot.