Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Excellent Automotive Television

I spend enough time with cars in my life, between working at Charles River Saab and In Control and following my son’s racing pursuits, that I don’t need to seek out car related pastimes for recreational purposes. But my sons, especially Marcel, are huge fans of the BBC’s Top Gear television program. While I never sit down expressly to watch the program, there have been enough times that my sons have commandeered to clicker and switched to BBC America to tune in that I have come to appreciate Top Gear, and perhaps it is the best piece of entertainment on television—especially if you love British humor as I do.

Essentially, Top Gear is a variety show. It is part travelogue, part guest interview, and many parts silly fun, with motorized vehicles either directly or tangentially factored into their schtick. The three hosts—Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May—are delightful in their interaction with one another at times, and merciless in completely hysterical ways at others. Each show features at least one car (whose performance is gauged on the Top Gear track by the Top Gear mystery driver—The Stig), one celebrity guest who gets to take a timed lap in the Top Gear Affordable Car, and some sort of automotive challenge for the hosts, often in exotic cars or in exotic places. I cannot even guess at the sort of budget this show must have. There is not a continent which has not been the backdrop for one of their escapades. Indeed, some of these sorties are rich eye-candy, such as a tour they did of Viet Nam on motor bikes. Others are just ridiculous and make you laugh until it hurts, as was the case of their foray in the American South in $500 jalopies. It is truly brilliant television.

Top Gear has had the occasional Saab grace its stage. One episode a few years back poked fun at the “Born from Jets” campaign, in which The Stig piloted a 9-5 Aero on the track and raced an RAF Harrier Jet. The jet won. But it was still great fun, and while not completely enamored with the 9-5, there was certainly some affection for it.

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