Ravi Patel Proves Himself To Be A Charming, Personable, And Authentic Host During His ‘Pursuit Of Happiness’

Happiness can mean different things to different people, especially while we’re all living in the midst of a pandemic that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. For some, it’s having material goods or tangible experiences; for others the feeling is rooted in the personal relationships that make up the fabric of one’s life. For Ravi Patel, who rose to fame with his 2015 documentary Meet the Patels, happiness hinges upon his family and the issues that directly affect their wellbeing.

In his new HBO Max travel show Ravi Patel’s Pursuit of Happiness, the actor identifies four key topics that are weighing heavily on him and explores them via investigations into other countries’ ways of life. As his parents grow older and think about what retirement looks like, Patel takes them to Mexico to experience a retirement colony; he and his wife travel to Japan to learn about parenting autonomous children; South Korea teaches Patel and a colleague about overworking; and Denmark’s recent views on refugees provide a canvas for understanding global immigration trends and attitudes. 

At the core of every lifestyle travel show is the host. The very premise of these types of shows is that you want to spend time with the person whose name is in the title as they go to the places you’ve always dreamed of, experiencing things you didn’t even know existed. Without an enigmatic center, frankly there is no show. So the greatest win is fitting Patel into a role he was born for. Not only is he charming, personable, and authentic in speaking about matters that interest him, but he is also extremely open to the other cultures that he is exploring. He never loses himself—he will always be a brown guy from North Carolina, and the American perspective is always at the core of the show—but his willingness to try everything and learn from others makes him the perfect vessel for a show like this in 2020.

Due to sheer timing, an easy comparison can be made to Zac Efron’s Netflix docuseries Down to Earth, which dropped earlier this summer. While the subject matters are very different (Efron’s focus was on the environment and cleaner global practices—a worthy topic in its own right—while Patel focuses on larger societal conversations), both shows offer lessons about how to live with one another in a cohesive society. I’ve always been obsessed with Zac Efron (High School Musical came out while I was in high school, and I was extremely invested in the trilogy), but his camera charisma was not always readily available in Down to Earth. Conversely, Patel is funny, vulnerable, and eager in a way that feels fresh and inviting. 

Each episode also pairs Patel with a guest co-host—always a friend or family member—who feel strongly about the issue at hand. The chemistry between these central subjects can make or break an episode, and there is no stronger pairing than Patel and his parents. Vasant and Champa Patel are so full of life and wisdom, and brought me to tears as they talked about the hardships they’ve overcome to build their life as immigrants in America (I say this, of course, a few weeks after I temporarily moved back into my retirement-ready parents’ home, and am more focused than ever on spending time with them—a theme Patel hits on). 

Ravi Patel's Pursuit of Happiness
Photo: YouTube/HBO Max

Patel’s close bond with his parents is palpable through the screen, and was reminiscent of Taste the Nation, where Padma Lakshmi featured her close relationship with her mother and her hopes of keeping her Indian roots alive while raising her daughter (a concern of Patel’s as well). The two shows share more than just a reverence for immigrant Indian parents from charismatic Indian-American hosts; they are also generous in sharing a globalist view of the world. The current political climate lends itself to looking inward and focusing only on the American way of life, but these shows successfully argue that there is as much to learn from our neighbors abroad as there is to learn from those next door. All we have to do is be open to the journey. 

Each of the four episodes of Ravi Patel’s Pursuit of Happiness lean into this idea, none more than the fourth and final episode of the docuseries. Patel and his friend, journalist Abdullah Saeed, travel to Denmark, one of the most socialist and happiest countries on earth, to investigate the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment. It reflects much of what is happening within our own borders, and effectively humanizes those that come to another country in search of a better life. That these investigations are being helmed by westernized brown men only adds to the conceit: they are trying to understand why people like them are othered, while likely being othered in the process by the predominantly white Danish population. 

In most episodes, Patel doesn’t come away with a definitive answer to the question at hand. Instead, he opens himself and his loved ones up to perspectives that they had not considered previously. True happiness might ultimately be an intangible end goal, but I’d say Ravi Patel’s pursuit is worthwhile.

Watch Ravi Patel’s Pursuit of Happiness on HBO Max