I had never heard of the show before, not even the American version on the History channel, which incidentally, is now in its third year. Top Gear UK, the original series has been on the air for some 17 years in the UK and other parts of Europe presumably, and it wasn’t until I stumbled across the show one day clicking around on the cable box that I saw a bit of an episode for the first time. It was on the BBC channel which I didn’t even know I had, which might explain why I had never seen the show. I might have just passed it by, but there was something about the scene that caught my attention. There was some British bloke talking about a Chevy that many stars had driven that he could not sell. He was driving it to some industrial site where it was to be given a proper Viking burial. He parked it between two smokestacks and proceeded to blow it up with explosives. The smokestacks collapsed onto the car simply flattening it, but not completely covering it as its nose stuck out. This Brit was not impressed by the demolition and thought it a travesty that the car had not received a proper burial. I thought the whole bit was pretty interesting, so I stuck around to watch the next part of the show, something about a celebrity barbecue to christen a new “reasonably priced car”, which turned out to be a KIA Cee’d, “the only car in the world with an apostrophe in its name”, said co-host, Jeremy Clarkson. This too sounded intriguing. Well, no stars appeared, not even Angelina Jolie or Johnny Dep who had been invited twice. Only random people from the BBC showed up to do laps around a race track in a cheap Korean car with an apostrophe in its name, whilst Hammond, the short co-host who had blown up the Chevy earlier and who looks like Davy Jones of the Monkees horsed around and burned the barbecue sausages and the cauliflower Clarkson had brought for vegetarians. I don’t think I watched any more of the show after that, tiring of the theatrics, but it was a good laugh.
Fast forward to several weeks later and I found myself on Netflix and once again I randomly stumbled across the show, this time the first 17 series of Top Gear UK. Curious, and remembering that the first episode I had seen, which was Series 15, episode 1, I started watching random episodes and found myself quite addicted to the show. If you like cars, super cars, British humor, and the British way with words, you’ll love the show.
Here’s a typical show:
- 3 presenters (co-hosts) Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May
- A live audience
- Lots of silly banter
- New cars, mostly European ones, in the news with reviews of select cars
- Lots of witty banter
- Clips from test drives of select cars including super cars
- Live interview with a celebrity
- Clip of celebrity going around a track in a “reasonably price car”
- A road trip with a wacky challenge
- Lots of witty banter and pranks
And it works, it really does. First of all, the chemistry between the presenters is spot-on, as the Brits would say. They are genuinely funny and even funnier together. Jeremy is probably the sharpest wit of the lot, and arguably the bully of the bunch. Hammond, whom they call the hamster because of his size, seems always amazed, or astounded at one thing or another. He’s rather more prone to hyperbole and is the only one of the three who I think you could genuinely call fearless – the guy to fire out of a cannon or drop from a 30 story building onto a stack of foam cushions. James May is aptly called the slow one – not slow or dim witted, but slow in a car. He’s the pessimistic one with a bit of a monotone and dreary disposition whose second nickname is Eeyore.
They describe cars dramatically as “fantastic”, “brilliant”, “magnificent”, “horrific”, “rubbish” or that it’s a “bloody hybrid”. They endlessly insult one another. James May called Jeremy Clarkson an “apocalyptic dingleberry”, and they often call the other “stuuuupid”, a “moron” or a “blithering idiot”. They often “roast” the guest celebrities. Clarkson introduced Lionel Ritchie as a man who lives in a Hollywood mansion with 17 bathrooms.
On road trips, they are prone to frat boy pranks. Once Clarkson and Hammond rigged the horn on May’s car to go off every time he hit the brakes. Another time, Hammond’s 70’s Land Cruiser with suspect brakes rammed into May’s Suzuki 3 wheel drive vehicle every time he needed to stop. Clarkson “accidentally” set fire to the rag top on Hammond’s Land Cruiser which they had to put out with beer.
Their road trips are journeys that are like no other. They’ve traveled to India to promote British products, like a self-propelled lawn mower, a travel ironing board kit and English biscuits. They went to Albania to demolish a building with big trucks rather unsuccessfully. They traveled through Vietnam on second hand motorbikes – Clarkson on a Vespa. They trekked from Florida to New Orleans in cars they bought for 1,000 U.S. and were nearly killed by the locals they insulted when they spray painted provocative slogans on their cars like “NASCAR sucks”.
They aren’t fond of American cars and don’t seem too fond of America either. They endlessly insult the country and the culture, but it all seems tongue in check. They are, well Clarkson at least, Anglo centric and promote the superiority of all things British – which sometimes also sounds tongue in check. They are each fond of super cars, none of which come from the U.S. Clarkson favors Mercedes AMG cars, Hammond the Porsche 911 and May, any Ferrari or Peugeot. They typically review cars from Britain, Germany, France and Italy and race them around the track somewhat non-professionally. They leave the professional driving to the mysteriously helmeted staff race car driver they simply call the Stig.
Top Gear UK is one of the more entertaining car shows I’ve ever seen. I’ll have to check out Top Gear USA to see how it stacks up against the original.
- Book Review: Top Gear Top Drives (motortrend.com)
- Confirmed: Top Gear blokes starting supercar road trip across USA (autoblog.com)
Filed under: Cars, Travel, TV, Uncategorized | Tagged: BBC, BBC America, British humor, car shows, Cars, Clarkson, Hammond, humor, humour, James May, Jeremy Clarkson, Mercedes AMG, Richard Hammond, the Stig, Top Gear, Top Gear UK, Top Gear UK Review |