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Mark Peters

 

While news headlines have been dominated by wild speculation surrounding the strange and unsettling disappearance of flight MH370, it wouldn't have come as too much of a surprise to anyone who has backpacked through the touristy parts of Southeast Asia that the stolen passports used by two of the flight's passengers were acquired in Thailand, a black-market haven for counterfeit papers and document realignment. When the story broke, many questioned whether the two men were simply seeking overseas asylum or were, in fact, responsible for the jet's vanishing. It was a natural line of inquiry but it did have the unfortunate consequences of energising brainless xenophobes and leading even the most open-minded globetrotter to be slightly more suspicious towards the intentions of strangers.

The tourist cons featured in new documentary series Scam City (TVB Pearl, Wednesday at 9.30pm) are less sinister than the taking of a plane, as investigative journalist and travel expert Conor Woodman goes undercover to expose the seedy underbelly of tourism, getting himself scammed so we don't have to. What a considerate fella!

Equipped with more hidden cameras than your average NSA agent, Woodman begins in the hot spots of Rome, Italy - the Colosseum and the Vatican - as he investigates the touts deceiving tourists with false tours and promises of tea with the Pope, and unearths the more hard-core hustling and intimidation employed by organised crime families. It's enough to put you off ever leaving home again but, as Woodman is keen to remind us, "It's easy to watch the series and think the world is a terrifying place, but don't be scared, be prepared. Enjoy yourself but take the right precautions."

I wonder what Woodman would make of our own fair city's "lock 'em in a jewellery store" approach to tourism.

A peek at a lighter slice of life, Stella (above), a warm-hearted comedy drama penned by comic actress Ruth Jones, begins this week on BBC Entertainment (Wednesday, 8.15pm). Jones, who shot to fame as the no-nonsense, larger-than-life Nessa in the award-winning British comedy Gavin & Stacey (which she also co-wrote, with comedian James Corden), plays the title character, a forty-something single mum who is fallible, kind-hearted and relatively content with life as she juggles friends and a chaotic extended family. Set in a small town in Wales, Stella is a charmingly observed, poignant comedy that manages to avoid the clichés and, much like Gavin & Stacey, is crammed with a wonderful cast of gently eccentric characters. There are no bad guys here, simply nice people who aren't afraid to show their love for one another - and it won't be long before you're identifying with Paula, the fully functioning alcoholic funeral director, or cheering on Alan, the affable Lollipop Man with an unrequited love for Stella.

Dare I say it, after a few episodes - don't set your judgment on the pilot alone - you may just start to agree with me that Stella is even better and more enjoyable than Britain's "favourite comedy".

Stella is, indeed, stellar.

 

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