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Photograph: Global Panorama

Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends

As he’s gotten older, Louis Theroux’s documentaries have become decidedly more serious in tone, tackling issues such as dementia and alcohol addiction. As his subject matter became more grave, Louis gradually let go of his trademark playfulness and replaced it with calm, rigorous documenting. In short, he became more professional. So, then, it was perhaps surprising (and also very exciting) when his new feature film My Scientology Movie was described as “riotously funny” by Variety and “pleasingly eccentric” by Screen Daily. It seemed as if the iconic Theroux was up to his old tricks again. As the buzz surrounding this new movie grows, it might be rewarding to revisit – or indeed visit for the first time – the series where he first made a name for himself.

Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends is as wacky as the name suggests. The series follows a young, bumbling, shaggy-haired Louis across the United States, where he introduces us to a range of weird and wonderful people; UFO Hunters, porn stars, pro wrestlers and doomsday preppers to name but a few. While the oddity of each episode’s subject never fails to be interesting, the one thing that keeps viewers coming back each week is Louis himself. The star’s awkward humour, bemusement, and good natured questioning of his subjects is an integral part of the show.

Louis acts as a conduit for the audience. He reacts genuinely to what he sees, even if doing so risks alienating his hosts. He isn’t afraid to laugh, or at times to voice open disgust. Whenever a question occurs to Louis he asks it. And most of the time, thanks to his natural charm and unassuming manner, he gets honest answers. In this way Louis is so much more than a presenter – he is the subject matter. The episodes don’t document small subcultures in a vacuum, but instead document the introduction of lovable everyman Louis Theroux into unfamiliar environments, and from here stems both hilarity and fascination. Take the first episode ‘Christianity’ as an example: Louis visits a televangelist’s TV Studio just to interview the hosts, and ends up being roped into broadcasting live to thousands of Americans.

These mini-documentaries evolve naturally, thanks not only to Louis’ spontaneity and willingness to try anything once, but also to the fact that the cameras never stop rolling. Where a standard documentary might consist of a presenter speaking into the camera, followed by a montage of dry interviews and still shots, Weird Weekends feels entirely like a behind-the-scenes show. Louis has free reign, running wherever he likes and asking whatever questions he wants answered, all the time followed by a dedicated handheld camera crew. There is no big-screen professionalism here, only organic, youthful, energetic fun.

For die-hard fans of Louis, revisiting these gems will always be worthwhile. And for those yet to watch a Louis Theroux documentary, there’s no better place to start.