From Swingers to born-again Christians, alien hunters and infomercial stars, Louis Theroux from BBC 2 provides the perfect insight into some of America’s most absurd sub-cultures. With the release of Theroux’s My Scientology Movie, a documentary film revealing some horrific truths about this infamous religion, and Savile, a harrowing re-evaluation of his 2000 interview with Jimmy Savile from earlier this year, a throwback to his Weird Weekends series (1989-2000) is inevitable.
Weird Weekends, with three seasons and seventeen episodes (sadly only the first two are currently on Netflix), is Louis Theroux’s first television series. Yet he manages to observe some of the strangest lifestyles of America, not by judging or criticising their way of life, but by getting involved in an attempt to understand and empathise with these people. Each episode is insightful and hilarious; his charming, seemingly naive, but clearly intelligent character makes this series a real gem. His documentaries are grounded in humanity, rather focusing solely on physical factual evidence. His aim is to get to know the individuals, rather than stereotypes of their particular sub-culture. Theroux’s Weird Weekends documentaries unintentionally make his subjects sympathetic, or at least humanise them in a world that continues to disregard and archetype them.
His unique interviewing style is what makes his documentaries stand out. He does not openly mock these people who obviously live very different lives to himself, but instead he pauses and allows the interviewee to keep talking. Louis Theroux however, is not only the voice behind the camera: he gets truly stuck in. His intent to get involved in the lives of his subjects knows no bounds, as in one episode he memorably jumps naked into a swimming pool at a swingers party when he feels a slight lull in his content. In other episodes, he continues to surprise his audience by auditioning and getting a part in a gay porn film, doing surprisingly well in a demolition derby, and attempting to make it as a gangster rapper in New Orleans. As an audience member, you really get the feel that he has become friends with his interviewees by the end of the time he has spent with them during Weird Weekends, albeit some more so than others. In the final episode of season one, Louis Theroux brings together people he has met from each episode for a final Christmas special. In the episode he attempts to investigate whether this group of extremely different people, all of whom live on the very edges of society, can be brought together and still have an enjoyable Christmas. This exploration of human relationships in such an optimistic light is a notion which runs throughout the entire series and gives each episode a hopeful and uplifting ending, even when viewing the most seemingly bizarre lifestyles.
With a much lighter tone than his later works which delve into the more serious topics such as the lives of sex offenders, neo-nazis, Westboro Baptist church members, and inmates of a prominent American prison, Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends retains the same sense of humour and engaging interview style throughout. His endearing nature and fascinating subject matter make his documentaries watchable and thought-provoking.