Pick of the Week – June 9-15, 2014

The BBC series Top Gear is one of the most popular shows in the world.  For a few weeks each year, hosts Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond review cars, report car news, interview celebrities about their cars, and then put those same celebrities into a reasonably-priced car to see how fast they can do a lap of the Top Gear track.  If you aren’t a car person, which I’m not, this sounds like it would be incredibly dull, but it is soooo not.  Because on top of all of those segments, the show features several races and other challenges that, thanks to the personalities and interactions of the hosts, usually end up being hilarious.  The world seems to agree.  In the 2013 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, Top Gear gets the nod for the most watched factual program in the world.  As of that year, it was broadcast in 212 countries and territories.

Not all countries just show the original UK series.  Some, such as Germany and Australia, have started their own officially licensed versions.  The US version, which premiered in 2010, just aired its 5th season premiere last Tuesday, and is my pick for this week.  I mentioned the show on this site several months ago in a post about the things that make me happy.  Here’s what I said about Top Gear US at the time:

“When the US version of Top Gear began on the History Channel four seasons ago, it was a pale imitation of the wonderful UK original and tried way too hard to shove the US hosts into segments done on the original show.  Four seasons later, “Top Gear US” has jettisoned most of the standard UK bits, such as celebrity lap times and interviews, and established its own style and identity.  More importantly, the three hosts, Tanner Foust, Rutledge Wood, and Adam Ferrara, have really gotten to know each other and developed much needed chemistry and camaraderie.  While I still am clueless about the more technical aspects of their car reviews (the extent of my knowledge in this area is…well, there isn’t any.  I know how to change the wiper blades.  For everything else, I call my mechanic), I look forward to seeing what the guys will be doing each week.”

That’s still true.  The season premiere, which centered on American muscle cars, was a lot of fun as the three hosts competed to see which two would be allowed to participate in a real drag race at the end of the hour.  They faced electrified steering wheels, swarms of flies, and a lot of good-natured insults from their fellow hosts as they battled to get one of the two race spots.  Did I learn anything about muscle cars?  Not really.  But I had a great time watching anyway.

- Alan Decker

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