By Sarah Osman
Unlike other pretentious and/or earnest travel shows, Men in Kilts is downright jolly.
I am an avid traveler. I have been to four different continents and I have no intention of stopping my travels once I am allowed to venture out again. I have literally slept on the beach and stayed in five star resorts (sometimes on the same trip). Even though I enjoy reading travel writing and have penned some myself, I am not a fan of travel shows — especially if it’s hosted by a celebrity. I often find these program to be little more than food porn. Even worse: they customarily view the cultures being sampled from a colonizers’ view. Tellingly, travel shows are rarely hosted by people of color, which raises the large, problematic issue of how the world is viewed and treated in the entertainment media.
However, despite these flaws, I ended up enjoying Starz’s Men in Kilts. Why? I am a fan of Outlander, which the two hosts of Starz’s Men in Kilts starred in. There’s also the fact that Scotland is rather high on my travel list. Also, unlike other pretentious and/or earnest travel shows, Men in Kilts is downright jolly. That spirit doesn’t make up for the industry’s obvious prejudice regarding people of color and travel, but that oomph makes this series far more compelling than its white counterparts.
The series features Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser on Outlander) and Graham McTavish (Dougal MacKenzie on Outlander) as they drive around Scotland exploring indigenous foods, whiskeys, sports, and traditions. The two maintain a pleasantly light banter with one another. There is lots of teasing: these are just two buddies on a road trip. They never take their trip all that seriously: they don’t come up with any startling cultural or political revelations or act as if Scotland exists in some exotic universe (the two are Scottish, so that may have set the stage for modesty). This relaxed relationship between Heughan and McTavish makes the series fun to watch.
Yes, there is a bit of food porn on the series: the two counter the stereotype that Scottish food is disgusting (haggis, anyone?) by focusing on the country’s Michelin starred restaurants. But the show’s crowning achievement is its picturesque scenery. Outlander features breathtaking shots of the Scottish countryside and so does Men in Kilts. Along with the pair’s adventures we are given gorgeous looks at Scotland’s unique architecture, its vast emerald spaces, and its various isles. If you didn’t want to visit Scotland before, these visuals will probably change your mind.
Because Heughan and McTavish are Scottish, they are keen to celebrate their own culture. Their enthusiasm doesn’t come from a showbiz place: they are not a pair of voyeurs marveling at how ‘foreign’ their surroundings are. They are appreciative but not overawed (thus the need for more people of color hosting travel series). The program also offers ups fascinating little tidbits about Scotland, which is still a culture that isn’t quite as well known as say, Ireland or England. Men in Kilts helps to demystify Scotland and squash beliefs that it’s just the home of the fabled Loch Ness monster.
And it must be said that Men in Kilts is certain to appease Outlander lovers. A number of scenes from the series are interspersed throughout the show. And the photogenic Heughan is never reluctant about taking his clothes off. However, even for those who have never seen Outlander, Men in Kilts entertains. Because the show was filmed pre-Covid, it serves as an inspiring reminder of the glorious experiences awaiting travelers once the pandemic is over (and, with more vaccines being administered and cases dropping in the US, that will hopefully be soon). That reassurance triumphs over the inevitable flashes of pain: the series is a reminder of what it is like to be in close proximity to others and not have to wear a mask in public.
So, until I can hop on a plane and visit Scotland myself, I’ll continue to watch Men in Kilts. I want to hear more of Heughan and McTavish’s boyish jesting, experience more of Scotland’s craggy isles, and learn about esoteric sea creatures who rival the weirdness of the Loch Ness monster. And seeing Heughan shirtless is also worth multiple viewings.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer living in Los Angeles. She has written for Young Hollywood and High Voltage Magazine. She will be featured in the upcoming anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences under the Trump Era.