James May’s Man Lab - Series 1
by Joe Sanders
Available on DVD from BFS Entertainment on March 27
Film Monthly Home
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
First, it has to be said that this is a completely useless show. It starts off under the guise of being educational, striving to teach men everything they should know to be a man. James May (Top Gear) feels that within the last generation, men have been reduced to a bunch of artsy, feckless morons, who are just as likely to use a screwdriver as an ice pick as anything else.
For some reason, May believes he’s the one to mold all us weak little boys into proud men, members of the brotherhood. And maybe if May spent his 3 hours with us teaching us the proper way to use a screwdriver, or how to change a tire – all with his dry, British wit pushing the show along – this would be a decently valuable show. Unfortunately, we are instead subjected to the learning of such invaluable skills as how to disarm an unexploded German bomb, the conduct for a duel to the death, and how to set up a pointless toy train to run snacks from your kitchen to your office.
The latter is the most infuriatingly worthless thing on the show. It’s meant to be a convenience, but does absolutely nothing but promote laziness, and furthermore: laziness as a result of needless complication. It’s full of contradiction. The system works by person A ringing a door bell, and person B starting the train from the kitchen. Then, once the train reaches person A, he rings the door bell again and person B stops the train. Then person A writes his request on a sticky note in one of the cars of the train and rings the doorbell twice to send it backwards towards person B, who puts whatever person A requests in the train car and sends it back to person B, who of course, has to ring the door bell to make the train stop. It’s exactly the type of system any of us would put together if we could, when we were 8 years old. Of course, we would quickly tear it all down when we realized how impractical and stupid it was. One has to appreciate the irony of this system within this show though. May likes to look down his nose at all us so called lazy men who don’t know how to use a T square, and along the way sets up a train that strives to assure him that he’ll never again have to walk 12 feet for a banana.
The creation of useless inventions is a theme of the show, and also include a radio-controlled picnic table, an empty toilet paper roll warning system, and a radio-controlled helicopter armed with fireworks to hunt wasps. Each of these are about as useful as you’d imagine, but their obvious faults don’t sway James May or his man’s man team from building this crap. The toilet paper warning system would be a good idea for an invention if its alarm sounded before the person sat down and started using said toilet. But unfortunately, this system is reliant on the aforementioned train system to bring a new roll of toilet paper to the helpless soul trapped on the toilet.
There is a legitimate entertainment value to James May’s Man Lab. May knows how to host a show. Just like on Top Gear and Oz and James’ Big French Wine Adventure, May’s arrogance and overt “manliness” is enjoyable to watch as he looks down on a particularly effeminate car, or some little wine snob. He brings that same style to this endeavor, but it’s impossible to know why he decided against delivering a legitimately useful program about how to use tools or build a piece of furniture. Instead, we’re left with this, a show deflated to the level of a bad sitcom.
In fact, the best way to describe this catastrophic mess would be (wait for it…) a train wreck.
Joe Sanders is a playwright and college instructor in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has a Master’s degree in playwriting and a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches Thought and Writing.
Got a problem? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org