Sue Perkins: Along the US-Mexico border – darkness has risen with a hint of wit | TV and radio

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Watching Sue Perkins presents a program that always recalls the time in Blackadder when financially troubled Edmund shows potential buyers around his house. “You really worked on your jokes, haven’t you?” one of them said. “No, not really,” Blackadder replies. “It’s a different thing – it’s spontaneous, and it’s called mind. “Wit is Perkins’ USP. All presenters have warmth and intelligence, although the two can vary in degree and nature, and in the proportions in which they are mixed. But it’s Perkins ‘ability to think on her feet – and, I guess, her editors’ willingness to keep it and not flatten her into traditional helplessness – that marks her (and the likes of Grayson Perry and Paul O’Grady when he lets tear up). This adds spice to the debates. It’s always welcome, even when – as in last night’s opening episode of Sue Perkins in Two Parts: Along the US-Mexico Border (BBC One) – the subject of the program is particularly colorful in self.

Perkins started in Tijuana, which is home to the world’s busiest border crossing – a dangerous place and a fantastic city to party. The same goes for the human heart, especially when you add tequila to it. This is how Tijuana has attracted Americans particularly intensively since the 1930s, when prohibition made it the destination of choice (that is to say the closest) in which to buy hard liquor and drink it. absolutely hammering. Perkins was expertly guided through the Friday night sights (including a zebra wandering the streets) and sounds (mariachi bands, mainly) and in an all-off-license tequila. The many wares she sampled with her guide, Matthew, included a salty, slimy white shot called Sexy Cream. “It’s a taste of a long, long time ago,” said Perkins, a lesbian for several years.

Deeper, darker issues were of course inevitable, as Perkins – once recovered from his hangover and flashbacks – continued his journey along the border. At a hastily built shelter for 40 single mothers and their children, she met a Honduran woman and the three young children – one hospitalized with dehydration upon arrival – with whom she had fled her home country in search of of a better life in the United States. . Now, in accordance with current US government policy, she and everyone like her must wait in Mexico while seeking asylum across the border. “But thank God, nothing has happened that we can regret,” she says, as her three children sleep safely – all border terms themselves are borderline – around she.

A short drive away, Perkins meets a group of 60-year-olds who have chosen to live in Mexico for cheaper health care and a better quality of life (on the beach, smoother with marijuana). Some have the right papers, others don’t. But being an illegal economic migrant is apparently only a problem if you come from the other direction. For them, the emerging wall near the Pacific (a stretch built under the Clinton administration rather than part of the infamous more recent construction) is just a place to rest your joint or martini.

In Friendship Park, back in Tijuana, that’s it. The park is the designated point where families can meet, separated by lack of documents and the threat of eviction and often caught for years in the Byzantine treatment system. Again, a limiting word – when massing at the fence, they can pretty much see each other through the thick metal and touch each other with their fingertips through the inflexible mesh.

Onward, then, 350 miles through Arizona and the introduction of Perkins to the patriotic sheriff of Pinal County, whose office is crammed with weapons and flags. “I’ve only been in the office for two seconds,” Perkins remarks, handing him another pistol from his stash, “and I’m already fetishizing weapons.” This is how it starts, folks. He in turn presents him with the ways and means of the Mexican cartels who use human trafficking to help smuggle drugs that make their gigantic profits.

Parts, like this one, where Perkins tries to convey and comment on the extent of suffering and the complexity of the factors behind her as she moves along communities living hard against both sides of the wall (“How many times do we have to put something like this before we realize it’s not the way?”) Work less well than the lighter sections. Sections are also most effective when they compassionately and competently interview those directly affected by the powerful forces around them. It remains a travelogue rather than a documentary, and the format cannot take too much stress. Let a presenter persuade the stories, raise the rest with wit, and the documentary can come later.

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