Top Gear – 7 episodes of meh
Since the rebirth of the Top Gear series in 2002 Sunday nights just haven’t been quite right without eagerly anticipating the 8 o’clock weekly show. I, along with however many millions of other fans were no doubt excited leading up to the start of the 13th series beginning on June 21st, but then the announcement came that there would only be seven episodes. That along with various budget cuts to the show (why they can’t cut back on the daytime bollocks middle aged women watch I’ll never know) meant Top Gear would have an uphill struggle to entertain before filming even began, but nonetheless us fans were excited and sat in hope that they’d simply cram everything they could into each one hour of awesomeness that had been bestowed upon us every Sunday night… for a few weeks of the year at least.
What we ultimately got was seven episodes of absolute meh. The series did start off quite well with a typically dramatised race between a steam locomotive, a classic motorcycle and a classic car from one end of the country to the other in 1940’s style, no doubt James May got there hours before the other two instead of minutes before as was insinuated on the show but none the less it made for entertaining television which is more or less what the show is entirely about. A media frenzy had also been whipped up to due a rumour that The Stig was to be revealed as Michael Schumacher at the very end of the episode, and that’s exactly what happened. For a while it did seem legitimate, however after a comically failed lap by the man himself we were once again left to ponder exactly who The Stig really is. Good thing too, popular rumour is that he’s some ex-Formula 3 test driver or something equally as dull, there would be no point whatsoever in revealing that.
After a solid first show the budget cuts seemed very evident for what was left of the series. The remaining six shows primarily consisted of a series of drag races between various vehicles, spending small amounts of money on either ‘classic’ cars or modern small cars and at one stage a rather stupid race between James May/Richard Hammond in a car vs the legendary Royal Mail system, once again going from one end of the country to the other in an attempt to reach a house somewhere in the north east of Scotland. We were treated to basically nothing happening apart from the letter inevitably arriving first, but interestingly the was no mention of how long the letter had been there before May and Hammond had shown up. Again it was probably several hours rather than the close race they made it out to be.
Throughout all this we also saw many manufactured comedy attempts that were cringe-worthy at times, in previous series it’s sometimes been hard to tell what’s been scripted or not but this time around almost everything seemed blatantly staged. A good example was when the presenters had to buy rear wheel drive cars for £1,500 or less, and one of the challenges was a braking test where they had to stop their cars short of crashing into a prized possession. Yes, long-time fans are not experiencing déja vu, they have done this before – in the previous series no less. James May couldn’t stop in time and crashed into his ‘prized piano’ at what looked like 40mph despite having ample time to slow down from 60, but it was his reaction to doing so that annoyed me somewhat. Now I’m no expert on piano design but the way it just obliterated upon impact showed me it was made from cheap wood, but what convinced me that this was likely some cheap imitation was May’s choice of words. He didn’t rant and rave that thousands of pounds worth of piano lay destroyed under his rather crap Ford Capri, instead nonchalantly stating ‘its not funny you pillocks’ after Clarkson and Hammonds’ rather half-arsed laughing.
Of course the main cause of the rather dull seven weeks of television complete with atrocious acting were the budget cuts, but it seemed like the series lacked the imagination we fans are accustomed to seeing as well. To me it felt like the writers and presenters didn’t make the most of what they had and simply repeatedly re-hashed the challenges that weren’t too costly. There’s a cheap alternative to almost everything, it doesn’t take millions of pounds to produce interesting and unique television if the people involved put their minds to it – which, as mentioned, I felt the Top Gear people didn’t do.
The ending to the series summed it all up nicely for me. What we saw was Jeremy Clarkson driving a beautiful Aston Marton V12 Vantage, simply stating “It’s an Aston Martin Vantage with a V12, that fact covers everything.” He then proceeded to spout out some nonsense about how various factors such as the environment, the economy, the ‘war on speed’ and problems in the Middle East mean that in the future such cars will be consigned to the history books. I find that hard to believe because much like anything else as long as there is a demand for extravagant, expensive cars they will still be manufactured. It’s not as if cars like the Aston Martin where ever practical to the average person anyway.
After several long, drawn-out minutes of driving the car aimlessly around the countryside Clarkson simply ended the series with ‘goodnight.’ To me this wasn’t a statement about the aforementioned vehicle being confined to the history books, but another example of the budget cuts causing a severe lack of imagination for the writers and producers. What they achieved wasn’t a thought-provoking piece of television telling us that the future of fast cars was all but fucked, but a middle-aged man renting a Vantage and driving it around aimlessly for a couple of hours at a total cost of a few hundred pounds at best. Nice try on the ending to the series, but much like with the rest of the lacklustre episodes it simply wasn’t good enough to convince me that what they were doing didn’t have an ulterior motive. The piece with the Vantage was a cheap filming session disguised as a stark glimpse of the future as far as I’m concerned, and it made for a sour ending to a sub-par series of Top Gear.
The series is repeated in full starting tonight at 8pm on BBC2 for those in the UK if you missed the first showing.
Posted on August 9, 2009, in Film & TV and tagged Aston Martin, BBC, Capri, James May, Jeremy Clarkson, Michael Schumacher, Richard Hammond, Television, The Stig, Top Gear, TV, Vantage. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.