Zen School of Motoring: the television that will purify your mind like meditation | Television & radio
I I don’t know if you remember this, but a few years ago when YouTube discovered its algorithm and vloggers suddenly went stratospheric, there were a number of failed attempts to transfer internet celebrities to real television. So, like, Zoella was coming at some point. A child-faced YouTuber would giggle for an entire ITV panel show without saying a word. Someone with a gossip string would work the red carpet awkwardly before a low-profile award show. All was well, but the experiments were doomed – YouTubers thrive when they have perfect control over their jumps, how often they’re allowed to make a squealing noise, and whether anything they said can be heard. turn out to be a joke. along. None of these tropes sat comfortably on TV, for people with fully developed prefrontal cortexes.
There’s now an uneasy dialogue between television and internet video – KSI always does Bake Off or something, Saffron Barker did Strictly – but fundamentally, they’re two opposite worlds. YouTube will always be for people who are excited to see how inflated a balloon can be before it explodes. TV can’t compete with that.
But there’s a chance BBC Three just broke it. Zen School of Motoring (available from January 16) is a new show inspired directly by the internet. It started life as a quietly revered YouTube series, and takes inspiration from emerging shapes and forms the internet throws around — like the ASMR whisper and the visual essay genre of Instagram Reels or TikTok — but makes them boxy. in a way that feels just as good on TV as it does on iPlayer. I don’t want to overdo it, but Zen School of Motoring might be so transcendentally good that it bridges the internet and television forever.
First, the format: it’s a camera strapped to the front of a car driving through London. That’s it. If you think this is going to sound like a short run through Paris It Was a Date, no: Zen…is a lot more meditative and meditative than that, mainly because, due to the heavy traffic around Stamford Hill, our host Ogmios is forced to take a slower and more deliberate route. Each break is narrated. Every view is absorbed and appreciated. We stop in a cul-de-sac to watch an Amazon delivery robot struggle against a high curb. We slow down to allow a pigeon to cross the road. We are pleased to have seen a pedestrian about to cross behind a parked van. We send waves of appreciation to those who let us out of the way. We stop when a parked car is tied up with balloons for a birthday. We’re stuck between two garbage trucks and realize it’s trash day. It’s a slice of life you might notice any day if you paid attention to it, but being spoken to gently by someone who knows the city’s veins so well elevates them to something deep.
There are recurring themes – potholes, waving, a corner where there’s always a man in a white coat doing something horrible with butcher’s meat – and, over time, everything starts to add up. Ogmios is a careful and empathetic driver – signal-perfect, patient who lingers behind pickup trucks struggling to make simple turns – and what happens when we drive with him is oddly soothing and invigorating. It makes me want to be a more considerate road user; it makes me realize how many people I interact with every day. “I appreciate the thank-you lights,” Ogmios whispers, as a taxi drives him through Angel, “but I think you’ll have to drive a little better in the future.” It’s like getting a massage while watching a driving education video after speeding. It’s like being reprogrammed in how to deal with people around us in a big world.
To an unabsorbed observer, Zen… is just dash cam footage with a narrative track over it (I’m pretty sure ITV used to do the same show during the early hours of the Saturday night before the arrival of You’ve Been Frame). But that’s like saying the comedy advice series How to With John Wilson is just trash pictures told by a nerd. Pay attention to Zen… – put down your phone and fully commit to the ride – and it will clear your mind like a meditation app. We finally understood how the Internet works on television. All he needs is a GoPro strapped to a car trying to get out of between those buses.