And now I love Top Gear, and honestly I DON'T WANT TO.
I’ve never been behind the wheel of a car, or had much interest in it, but now I seriously want to drive a Porsche 911 Carrera RS 3.0 at 163mph. But I don’t want to want to do that.
The show consists primarily of atmospheric music videos with shiny cars and zoom noises, with the driver giving their analysis as they skid around. There’s a camera on the inside of the passenger seat door, meaning that the driver will speak to you as if you’re sitting next to them. Bet you never noticed that before. It's surreal and makes them look mad.
At first Top Gear was about cars, and cars, and things like that, but then they realised that humans are always a nice touch. So the producers piled on buckets of the adventures, rivalries, foibles, and personalities of presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, and now Top Gear is absurdly popular to the extreme and people latch themselves onto the presenters who, as Stewart Lee said, exactly mirror the relationship of The Three Bears.
There’s original beer-gutted petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson, who gets paid liberal amounts of money to produce considerably less than liberal “opinions”. Only a year or so ago I had no idea that Clarkson was known for being on Top Gear – I thought he was just an unemployed bigot and royalist that tabloids went to when they got bored of talking about women who put cats in bins. I thought the BBC was rigid, I don’t understand why they allow all the iffy bits in, and I don’t believe in the message behind “boys will be boys” and I don’t advocate the excuse of “know me, know my ways” - but despite all this, in the majority of Top Gear Jeremy Clarkson is not wildly objectionable. He’s not as witty as the other two, but he’s funny, and he’s (obviously) beyond caring about perceptions, so he indulges in things like his embarrassing bird-watching hobby.
Several feet down from Clarkson is his resolute sidekick Richard Hammond, a big-eyed adrenaline junkie who pretends to be hyperactive and who flashes his pearly whites at every opportunity, in the knowledge that our grandmothers think he’s cute.
In 2007 a Vampire Jet-Powered Dragster travelling at 288mph got so annoyed by this that it filmed itself giving him brain damage and putting him in a coma. To paraphrase Stewart Lee again, maybe Hammond was lying there, broken and bleeding, thinking “I hope I get seriously injured in this crash; then I’ll be able to write a bestselling book about it”. And he did – a few, actually – and gave a million interviews on a million chatshows and a million tabloids, as did his wife, every single little detail of every single little shudder of heartbreak. They sold the whole experience, him and his wife, and because the experience couldn’t be taken away from them, they were able to flog it again and again – they still can, and they still do. If only real life economy was like that.
Despite the controversies of Hammond and Clarkson, most people I’ve talked to about Top Gear find their favourite in the quieter James May, who is still a bit “ooh pikeys”, but PC central in comparison to Clarkson. May is a bit hazy, he looks like he enjoyed the ‘70s (as they say) and he has long hair and wears baggy shirts a lot, but he is generally a shiny-shoed gentleman who refuses to run on television. He seems like he should be a great writer or Pipe Smoker of The Year, but he’s not, he’s on Top Gear. Which is fine. It’s great fun to watch his diffidently amused face.
And sometimes we get to watch all three of them together, on wild adventures through deserts, the arctic, rainforests, mountains, volcanoes, cities, oceans, tunnels and skies. Sounds like I'm being sarcastic there, but I'm not. Top Gear is big budget, and I love their massive adventures.
Even though the most publicised public impression of Top Gear is how everyone loves or hates the presenters, I’ve spoken to lots of real life walky abouty people about Top Gear, and interestingly the strongest opinion is that there’s not enough technical stuff. I agree. Even I want to know more technical stuff, and I had to look “horsepower” up on Wikipedia. I’ve watched a lot of Top Gear episodes now, and despite learning an upsetting amount of jargon I still don’t know the very basics of how the hell a turbo engine works; I just know it makes the car go “vroom vroom” to an extent that makes those three testosteroney presenters look like they shouldn’t be on TV before the watershed.