I’m often so busy talking about the shows I don’t like on here, I forget to champion the ones I do. Banged Up Abroad (also called Locked Up Abroad overseas) is a hidden gem, stowed away on the National Geographic channel (me neither). From the title I’d think it was a show like Road Wars, featuring drunks getting nicked in Magaluf. I can assure you it is NOTHING like that, so don’t let the title put you off.
90% of the time, the show follows the same format, which is as follows: person struggles for money in hot country. Person meets X, who offers them the chance to earn big bucks smuggling drugs. Person goes for it, panics a bit, then gets caught.
The format is so simple, and it’s almost the same every week, but what makes it so compelling is that it’s real people telling their stories. Half the show is them being interviewed telling you how it happened, and half is a ‘reconstruction’ of events.
One of the things I like best about Banged Up Abroad is the quality of the lookalikes they use for their reconstructions. You’re so used to reconstructions being almost comically shit, that these ones are actually an art form in comparison. On more than one occasion I’ve thought it was actually the same person as the actor. They really, really make the effort with them, which makes it feel all the more real- especially as sometimes they’ll show you the actual crime photo of the person getting caught with the drugs in the airport and you can see how the lookalike is dressed exactly the same; they really care about the detail.
There’s always a scene where the person gets caught at the airport, and you always know it’s going to happen, but you still feel like you’re there with them when they feel that hand on their shoulder. Half the show is just build up to that moment. Sometimes they get through once or twice and that makes them greedy. I’ve seen ones where people have been conned into it, ones where people have swallowed bundles of coke. Then there’s what happens to them when they’re in prison; and often it’s horrific. Often they do several years before they get out of the most horrendous of jails. I saw one recently where the guy became a junkie and contracted HIV. Grim stuff.
One of the best episodes I saw was of a couple telling their story, and they always give their interview in front of a black background, and at the end, they drew the curtain back, and you realised they were still inside! It was so horrendous, because normally you’re waiting to find out how many years they did. It was a brilliant twist. The girl was like this Manchester raver type, everything was ‘safe’ and ‘wicked’, and it was so weird to think of her still in there.
Sometimes they deviate from the usual formula- we saw this amazing one where this guy got kidnapped by rebels in the jungle and they kept him for months. He told them he was dying of prostate cancer to freak them out and kept shoving a key up his nose so they thought his nose was bleeding from the cancer. So much stuff happened in that episode, it was like a mini film. He was the most amazingly brave person; he was like Indiana Jones.
The whole concept seems like such a simple idea, and didn’t even sound appealing to me at first, but it really is the storytelling that drags you in, and the thought that it could be you. Just one bad decision is all it takes to change the course of your life forever.