Friday, December 05, 2008

Why "Top Gear" Is A Great Show.

Top Gear is the kind of show that would never fly on North American television. It's too long, too niche, and too crude.

It is, however, possibly the most beautiful show I've ever seen. The production value is off the charts. This is what the BBC reaps from each and every TV owner in the UK paying a licence to own their set. (The fee goes toward programming and cuts down on the need for ads, which makes for just one commercial break in each show. The break, it is said, is the exect amount of time it takes to boil the kettle and make a cuppa.)

Maybe that's why it's not being made in North America. We can't afford to make it look that good. Or can't be bothered...

It's ostensibly a car show. Or a vehicle show, I guess, but for me, the love is all about the hosts*. I would like to hear how it came to be that these three men are hosting this show.

The main host, I suppose, is Jeremy Clarkson. He's a giant who likes cars. Powerful cars. Sexy cars. He holds romantic notions about what cars should be and how they should sound. He is fond of superlatives. He likes cars with character and history, and he mercilessly makes fun of cars he doesn't like. He also likes to make fun of his two co-hosts.

Pound for pound, Richard Hammond is the sexiest man I know. (I can't believe he wasn't in The Two Towers. He would have made it to Mordor in 3 days.) He's all about speed. He likes to drive race cars which have about one inch of clearance off the ground. Often, he is paired up to race a car on a bicycle or a dog sled. Needless to say, he's the fit one. He almost died a couple of years ago in a horrific crash involving a car called the Vampire Dragster. (I don't think I could ever get in a car which is so ominously titled.) He survived, but lives with the aftermath of serious brain injury. Watch it here at 48 minutes in.

James May seems to be the voice of reason. The other two hosts tease him and call him "Captain Slow" because he'd rather admire the aesthetics of a vehicle than break the sound barrier with it. He has been quoted as saying, "I like luxury. It's the new performance." He brought foie gras to the North Pole, but also told Jeremy that if he ate the Spam (that he was saving for his victory meal), he'd "return home to his wife and children with a hatchet buried in [his] head." That's what I like: a refined badass.

The chemistry that these three men have is unparalleled. There is an obvious affection amongst them, one that must come from years of enduring challenges together. I don't mean like a rough economy or a dying pet, but challenges that the show's producers have them do.

For example, the Polar Special saw them racing to the North Pole. No kidding.
They flew to Resolute, N.W.T., and James and Jeremy set off in a tricked-out car (Toyota Hilux) while Richard raced them on a dogsled. They were the first pair to drive to the North Pole, and, as Jeremy had to point out, James was probably the first to make it to the Pole who didn't want to be there. Watch here.

They also went to the deep south in America and were, no joke, almost killed by a gang of rednecks.

Other challenges were more local but not less interesting. They had to convert cars into boats, which was interesting on its own, but then they had to drive to France! They had to race across London using car, bike, boat, and public transit, and they had to drive giant cargo trucks through a series of challenges.

Between challenges, the hosts discuss new cars, test speed on a closed track, test features and foibles, use a unique character called The Stig as a control driver, and put celebrities in reasonably-priced cars and get them to drive fast. Michael Gambon nearly flipped the car and had a corner named after him.

I like cars, but am not a connesseur. Their titles have too many single letters and digits and combinations thereof for me to keep them straight. Really, the only car I really know is a Mini. The Coopers, the Cooper Ss, yeah, I know those.

But, if you want to indulge in a little high-brow gear-headedness, Top Gear is for you. You'll be surprised by how entertaining it is.

*And a little for the cars.

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