“To live outside the law you must be honest,” sang Bob Dylan. And unless they are simply on their best behaviour for Ben Fogle, that is what the residents of a Californian shantytown seem to be.
The adventurer-presenter opens his latest series, Ben Fogle’s Lost Worlds (BBC Earth), in the American wild west: Slab City, so named because the foundations of its rudimentary residential plots are the concrete rectangles that once supported a military camp’s troop huts.
Decrepit trailers, SUVs, caravans, burger vans and other potential refugee vehicles from the Mad Max films constitute the “city” – where residents police themselves and visits from anyone in uniform are almost unknown.
All misfits looking for a home in 2.6 sq km (one square mile) of Sonoran Desert with no taxes – and no mains electricity, running water, sewerage or garbage collection – they elicit a protectiveness from the compassionate Fogle. He is also deeply impressed by the artistic endeavours of some and the business nous of others.
“Nobody is in charge,” says one veteran slabber; which means everybody is.
Fogle encounters a litany of problems in Montserrat, in the Caribbean. A holiday island playground until volcanic eruptions, from 1995 to 2010, buried extensive areas and created “the world’s only natural-disaster exclusion zone”, it is now compared to Pompeii by some remaining residents.
But residents it has – unlike St Kilda, unofficial holy grail of abandoned rocks. The star of Fogle’s deserted Scottish islands itinerary, St Kilda (actually an archipelago), 180km from the mainland, is notoriously inaccessible and has long been devoid of permanent headcount.
Four thousand years of occupation – and grindingly tough existence – ended in 1930, but those with links to St Kilda can be unapologetically nostalgic about it. As is Fogle, champion of everyone and everything “out there”.
Do not judge a television series by its Netflix poster.
Destined With You (another victim of a clumsy title translation) advertises itself as a sickly romantic drama, if you believe the artwork.
Lee Hong-jo (Jo Bo-ah) is a conscientious but naive minor civil servant in the Onju City “green” department, handling complaints and placating angry citizens. She is victimised by her colleagues and despised by her snaggle-toothed, comedy-villain boss Gong Seo-gu (Hyun Bong-sik), who holds a grudge against her.
More sinister is taciturn lawyer Jang Shin-yu (Rowoon), whose wealthy family own an apparently haunted shrine that Hong-jo is charged with demolishing.
The shrine hides a wooden box, which is heavily implicated in a curse affecting Shin-yu to the extent that he is regularly molested by a bloodied, supernatural hand.
At the risk of looking like a modern witch armed with some unlikely incantations, Hong-jo, a microwave-dinner-eating loner, may be the answer to Shin-yu’s predicament: an imaginative way for the screenwriters to pitch them into emotional waters.
A potential love triangle develops, thanks to Shin-yu’s fellow lawyer Kwon Jae-kyung (Ha Jun), who triggers Hong-jo’s blush response at 20 paces; and shamanistic teasers and warnings help maintain the spooky factor.
But the series is ultimately about cheery Hong-jo and grumpy Shin-yu, who, with all the pizazz of wet cement, drones: “I have a good personality and am humorous.” But maybe that is just lawyers for you.