The Hellhole

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I'm totally in love with a television show, a most unusual occurrence in my life. Top Gear has been on the BBC for years, airing in its current fabulous format since 2002, but BBC America just started showing it this year and I am totally hooked. So is Alan, who really could not care less about cars (he likes the kind that run) - but he loves this show as much as I do; it's truly just that great!

On the show, they test, rate and review both high-performance sports cars and standard consumer cars, everything from the £7000 Toyota Aygo to the rather more expensive Mercedes CLK AMG (£89,500 or so). They also have segments like "Star In A Reasonably Priced Car" where celebrities from Dame Helen Mirren to Simon Cowell to Jennifer Saunders to James Blount take a turn on the track in a totally crap car I'd never be seen in reasonably priced car (now it's a Chevrolet Lacetti; used to be a Suzuki Liana). Their times are posted on a rankings board. Throughout it all, the three hosts joke and snark at each other in a truly hilarious manner, they make political jokes about Ken Livingston, they work in subtle touches of satire. And oh! how they hate the traffic wombles! It's darned near Python-esque.

The best part, as far as I'm concerned, is the stunts/races. In one episode, the guys had to race through London to the airport during morning rush hour. The idea was to see who'd reach the airport first: James May driving a Mercedes GL SUV, Richard "Hamster" Hammond on a racing bike, Jeremy Clarkson in a speed boat along the Thames or mysterious masked racing driver "The Stig" on public transport. Another great race had the guys, including The Stig, piloting a diesel BMW 330 in the 24-hour endurance race at Silverstone. Since they didn't have any real sponsors, they painted their car with fake ones: Peniston Oil and Larsen Biscuits. When the doors of the car were open, one said "Penis" and one said "Arse". I found that most amusing.

In a great stunt I saw this weekend, they recruited other professional drivers to test the speed and handling of the aforementioned Toyota Aygo in the ultimate challenge: playing five-a-side with an enormous football. One of my favorites started with a debate about the quality - or lack thereof - of British Leyland, so on a budget of £1200 each, Jeremy bought a Rover SD-1, James a Leyland Princess and Richard a Triumph Dolomite. [On a total side/unrelated note, perhaps because I didn't grow up hearing it as a car name, 'dolomite' sounds to me like it ought to mean not an automobile, but a practitioner of some unspeakable sexual perversion, e.g., "Oscar may be a sodomite but he's wicked funny, so we'll still invite him to our dinner party. Ralph, on the other hand, is an admitted dolomite! We certainly can't have that sort at our table!"] Er, well, anyway, back to the British Leyland competition: tests included setting the parking brake while on a major embankment and hoping it would hold (which worked out better for some than for Hamster), driving across cobblestones with a basket of eggs suspended over their heads, losing points for broken eggs and earning points for eggs left whole, which tested ride comfort, and filling the entire interior of the cars with water - the guys breathed through snorkels sticking out the drivers' windows - then driving as far as they could around the racetrack until the water level sank below the steering wheel (testing both performance and build quality). And one of my favorite side bits has The Stig relaxing in the pool at Ascari on a float, dressed in full racing gear. His girlfriend swims across the pool in the background, a lovely girl in a bikini, wearing a full-face racing helmet.

Check it out if you get a chance. Lots of clips and hilarity are available on You Tube, if you don't live in the UK or happen to get BBC America. It's WONDERFUL. Out of everything available, I highly recommend this bit. Go on, click on the delicious linkage - you won't be sorry, even if you're not an auto enthusiast. Enjoy! And don't call me on Mondays at 8PM. I'm busy.


  • Top Gear is excellent. Have you seen the one where they go on a road trip of the Deep South of America and nearly get killed by a bunch of Rednecks?

    By Blogger neil h, at 5:58 AM  

  • Just curious, why would I like this show if I'm not at all an auto enthusiast? You don't really make it too clear. I sorta got glazed reading the car performance comparisons. I honestly don't care how these things run, as long as they don't run on petrol or even electricity. (Hydrogen!!) However, looking at Neil's comment, the "gettin' killed by rednecks" bit piques my interest.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:31 AM  

  • It's not really a show about cars. It's a show about the sort of people who think that cars are designed for having fun and driving around at high speed with tyres screeching. One of the challenges was to drive across Alabama in cars with the slogans 'Nascar sucks', 'Hillary for President' and 'Man Love Rules' written on them, which didn't go down too well with some of the locals ... :-)

    By Blogger neil h, at 7:46 AM  

  • It sounds hilarious. I wish we got the BBC channel. Maybe someday we'll upgrade to satellite. . . When does it come on? Maybe I'll show up at your house to watch one day! And follow with a game or two Katarmari Damacy and Guitar Hero. While drinking wine and eating cheese. I miss you *sob* *sob*

    By Blogger Nancy, at 7:51 AM  

  • The thing I like about the show is how much fun the presenters are having. In the average American car show, the presenters are all very technical, saying things like "...the new shifter produces 3.12439ft/lbs of torque at a ratio of 33.456790 to 2.334958, clearly making this an outstanding automobile..." while everyone nods along and pretends like they understood what he said. Over on Top Gear, they have the guys screaming around a track at 150mph and having the best time of their lives. I also like that on Top Gear, they can say that a particular car sucks, and not have to worry about offending the advertisers and sponsors. I'm no gearhead (that's Helly's job), and even I love Top Gear.

    By Blogger Alan, at 8:03 AM  

  • Neil, I loved that episode! I'm not sure what was funnier, Jeremy talking to the gold-teeth brothers about where to buy a good car for $1000 or the redneck woman chasing them out of her gas station once she saw some of their car graffiti.

    (S)wine, it's the humour that makes it a wonderful show. Throughout the more 'standard' bits like auto reviews and performance analysis, they make hilarious comments; then when they do races or tests, the concept as well as the commentators are convulsively funny.

    Nancy - various times on the weekends, and sometimes BBC-America has marathons (yay!) but always Mondays at 8, lately with a second episode at 9. C'mon over!!!

    By Blogger Helly, at 8:59 AM  

  • I have that channel! I gotta check it out. Anything is better with a British accent :)

    By Blogger A Margarita, at 9:39 AM  

  • Late chiming in on this one - we have been on the road for the past 8 days or so...but Kev and I absolutely LOVE Top Gear!!! It's one of our faves and we have been watching it for a couple of years - excellent show and so much fun! :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:50 PM  

  • Why does it not surprise me that Kevin loves Top Gear? I wish you hadn't moved so far away; we could get together for a Gearfest!

    By Blogger Helly, at 10:23 PM  


    By Anonymous heather, at 8:31 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home