ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff has been in many hot spots and war zones around the planet, but since he almost died after being blown up by an IED in Iraq in 2006, he’s changed his reporting to big-picture stories from all over the world. The idea of Rogue Trip, now streaming on Disney+, is that Woodruff and his 29-year old son Mack, a photographer, will travel to different countries and explore remote areas, talk to the people there, and try to get to know each other in a different way now that Mack is an adult.
Opening Shot: Mack Woodruff videos himself on a lake in “my favorite place in the world,” Silver Lake, New York.
The Gist: Bob Woodruff has come back very well from the attack, despite needing over a year to learn how to walk again, with the help from his family. And his sense of adventure and curiosity about other cultures has rubbed off on Mack. After the two of them pack up in the family’s Silver Lake home, they set off for Colombia, a country that’s trying to recover from a decades-long reputation for drug production and violence. After a civil war between the government and FARC rebels roiled the country for decades, a ceasefire was negotiated in 2016.
One of the things that Woodruff and the show’s producers wanted to show is that the conflict left much of Colombia’s natural beauty untouched from development. There are still issues, of course; Mack marvels at his dad’s ability to talk to a young soldier as their caravan is stopped at a checkpoint, for instance. When they take a boat down the Amazon at the very Southern tip of the country, they find out that it’s still the main “highway” for drug transport.
The father-son pair also rappel down a waterfall with the help of former FARC soldiers, observe an anteater “seeing” with its nose, they ride with the barefoot ranchers of Los Llanos, and explore the nighttime wildlife and gooey edible worms of the Amazonian region, the area with the most biodiversity on the planet.
Our Take: It’s hard to say much bad about Rogue Trip, produced for NatGeo but streaming on Disney+. As far as travel shows go, it firmly belongs in the realm of Bourdainian travel docs where the host(s) revel as much in the natural beauty and the people of a region and their own reactions sometimes take a back seat. It’s sort of like what Down To Earth With Zac Efron would be if its hosts had a bit more awareness of the world and its surroundings.
It’s definitely set up to show Bob Woodruff as the old pro who has wanted to visit one of the regions in the episode since he flew over it for an ABC News report in 2013, with war still raging. He wasn’t allowed to land and explore because it was too dangerous, so he’s as giddy as a kid that he’s able to explore now. Despite his travels and experiences, Woodruff’s sense of wonder at seeing things grand and tiny is amazing, as are his oddball dad jokes and otherwise goofy, self-effacing sense of humor.
Part of the show consists of spectacular photography, of course, and as in-depth an exploration of the people and culture where the Woodruffs visit that can be done in a 39-minute show. But the key to this series will be the changing relationship between Bob and his son. Mack takes time to discuss how his dad’s near-death experience in Iraq changed him and their relationship, and he sometimes wonders what “pre-2006 Dad” would be like now. But he also marvels at how his father has so well played the deck he was handed, and that 13 years after the incident (the series was shot last year) that his father can travel and marvel at what he sees as if he was 30 years younger.
That bond, and the resetting of their relationship where they each see the other more as peers, will be the key to setting the 6-episode first season apart from similar series.
What Age Group Is This For?: The series is TV-PG, and there is discussion of the checkered pasts of the regions the Woodruffs visit, but this is the kind of show that can be enjoyed by people 9 and up.
Parting Shot: The Woodruffs walk on top of rapids at the end of their Colombia trip. “Look at this place, man; it’s painful to leave,” says Bob. “What country are we going to go to next?” asks Mack.
Sleeper Star: If you look at Mack’s photos from these trips, you can see that he’s pretty talented. There are a few examples of his photos on the show, but there should be more.
Most Pilot-y Line: Nothing we could see.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Rogue Trip on Disney Plus not only explores some surprising aspects of underappreciated regions around the world, but the father-son bonding the Woodruffs gives the show a heartwarming element.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.