Light entertainment is a phrase that has in the past been used in a rather dismissive manner for some of the weaker programmes on our television screens. Initially covering anything from old-time variety shows to easy-going midweek quiz programmes, the genre had been rather battered by the plethora of phone-in talent shows and celebrity crossovers. One show, whose star’s popularity has been on a never ending upwards trajectory, has in recent years charmed the British public as it straddles between light entertainment and travel documentary…Breaking Dad.
Breaking Dad is a light-hearted travel programme that sees the ever popular Bradley Walsh and son Barney take to the road across an RV in the USA. The travel adventures premise is a simple one that has already been tackled by a couple of other stars, most notably Russell Howard and Jack Whitehall, but the flip side of Breaking Dad is that the established star of the pair is the father, not the son, something which even irked some critics who felt that maybe the show was too much of a showreel for Walsh junior.
Bradley Walsh burst onto television screens when given a big break on Des O’Connor Tonight. Des was the king of light entertainment for many years, holding down the most amiable comedic variety/chat show on television and bringing through many new comedians in the process. Walsh was one of those given wings to fly by Des, something he readily acknowledges, and his career never looked back.
According to Walsh senior, the idea for Breaking Dad came after the star had been shown a video of Philip Schofield’s mother wing-walking while at a party with the Good Morning Britain presenter. TV producer Dan Baldwin was present at the time and questioned whether Barney could persuade his Dad to try such things, and so the die was cast.
The Walshes set off across America in a large RV moving from one adventure to another, and of course America is the perfect place for them to push themselves. With such a variety of events as swimming with sharks, ice rallying and the old bucket list favourite of sky-diving, there’s an array of things to entertain the viewer without having the heavy heart of modern cynicism hanging over the visits. They are geared towards fun – or at least they are for Barney.
The underlying pretext to the programme’s title is that Barney wants to push his father to the limits, moving away from the stay-at-home family man and instead enjoying the adventures and pushing Walsh senior to face his fears. It doesn’t always work. Bungee jumping in series three is one step too far for Bradley, and he bails on that one, and the Breaking Dad title comes true during a Texas rodeo. One of the few events Bradley actually wants to try ends up hospitalising him overnight as he chips a bone in his back in an awkward fall from a bull.
Whether Bradley is really the loveable curmudgeon is questionable. It works far better for the show to portray him as such, but one of the reasons Walsh has been so successful on screens for decades now is that he can not only turn his hand at almost anything in the entertainment business, but also that he does it all with such charm and humour, often seen corpsing either on-screen hosting The Chase or in outtake compilation programmes. Uncontrollable fits of giggles is a trait Des would have approved of. The warmth of Bradley’s relationship with his son is probably what tips the programme into the bracket of one that the critics will like to take issue with, but that endears the programme to its growing army of loyal viewers.
The world of travel documentaries is a competitive one. From the Joanna Lumley travels, offering a soothing journey across historical trails, to the grittier Simon Reeve programmes exposing some of mankind’s uglier traits that need a light shined upon them around the world, there is a vast array of competition. One could argue that Breaking Dad barely even qualifies as a travel documentary, but as light entertainment goes, it has a highly likeable father and son showing some fun adventures at a time when a little simplistic positivity is very welcome…and who can argue with that?
Review by Brian Slade:
Born and raised in Dorset, Brian Slade turned his back on a twenty-five-year career in IT in order to satisfy his writing passions. After success with magazine articles and smaller biographical pieces, he published his first full-length work, `Simon Cadell: The Authorised Biography'.
Brian is a devoted fan of the comedy stars of yesteryear, citing Eric Morecambe, Ken Dodd, Harpo Marx and Dudley Moore amongst his personal favourites. He was drawn to the story of Simon Cadell through not only `Hi-de-hi!' but also `Life Without George', a programme he identified with having grown up in the Thatcher era.
Published on October 29th, 2021. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.