If you like cars, the smell of burning pistons, the wrenching thrust of power, or seeing middle-aged men put themselves through some of the silliest and most dangerous challenges any human has ever undertaken behind a steering wheel, then you have to see this show. Top Gear is just entering its 13th year in merry old England, and was just broadcast on BBC America here in the States. Say you haven’t heard of the show? Want to get caught up? Well, somebody is listening, because they’ve got Seasons 11 and 12 out on DVD.
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May have the best jobs in the world. They get to test drive supercars the rest of us can only dream of. And they get to take trips to amazing places and enter into the kinds of insane motorized challenges gearheads and would-be gearheads like us only fantasize about. They’ve worked together for so long that their interaction is almost more fun to watch than anything else on the show. But the show has a lot to offer. There is the segment, “The Star In The Reasonably Priced Car,” which pits some celebrity against one of the slowest, dullest vehicles in the universe as they try to come out with the best time around Top Gear’s lap, which is in fact an old airfield. And there are the segments where they get to try out either the latest supercar, like the incomparable Ariel Atom, or something more affordable, like Fiat’s latest economy car. Best of all is when they put some supercar into the hands of The Stig, a fellow in a racing suit and mirrored racing helmet who never talks, but who drives like the Devil himself.
And then there are the challenges. Some weeks they are relatively tame, such as the boys being instructed to undertake a series of challenges against the hosts of Germany’s equivalent of Top Gear. Some weeks they are much more grueling and exciting, such as the episode where they go to Japan and Jeremy races in some supercar while Richard and James take bullet trains and public transportation.
Full Episode Breakdown:
Top Gear Season 11
Jeremy, Richard & James look at fuel economy. They find out how far five supercars can go on one gallon of petrol (the answer? Not very) and Jeremy compares the Toyota Prius with the BMW M3 to show that driving style can make a big impact on how much fuel you use. The presenters are challenged to make their own police cars from old bangers and put them to the test in a chase situation. Jeremy reviews the awesome lightweight Ferrari Scuderia. Alan Carr and Justin Lee Collins are the ‘Stars in a Reasonably Priced Car’.
Jeremy tests the new Mitsubishi Evo X against the new Subaru Impreza WRX STi on the Top Gear track; Richard races the new Audi estate against two skiers in the Alps and Jeremy road-tests the new Mercedes CLK Black (“Imagine drinking a pint of hemlock, setting yourself on fire and then jumping out of a plane when it’s directly overhead a combine harvester… That’s what the Black feels like. Exciting beyond words. … I’m not sure that anyone’s life is quite complete unless they have one”). Actors Peter Firth and Rupert Penry-Jones (famous for playing spies in the BBC drama series Spooks) are the ‘Stars in a Reasonably Priced Car’.
Jeremy tests the new Brooklands Bentley Super Coupé on the Top Gear test track. The Producers set the Presenters a challenge: each is to buy an old Alpha Romeo for £1000 or less and put them through a series of feared Top Gear tests, including a track day, featuring them in calendars and showing them at a concourse day where the motto is ‘a passion for perfection’. Actor-comedians Rob Brydon and James Corden (currently enjoying much success in the BBC’s multi-award-winning Gavin & Stacey) are the ‘Stars in a Reasonably Priced Car’.
In a race across Japan, Jeremy Clarkson tries to prove that the technical tour de force that is the Nissan GT-R is faster than Richard Hammond and James May travelling on the ultra-efficient Japanese public transport, including the 200 mph Shinkansen Bullet Train. Jeremy also tests the beautiful new Alpha Romeo 8C on the Top Gear track. UK newsreaders Fiona Bruce and Kate Silverton are the ‘Stars in a Reasonably Priced Car’.
Jeremy and James show off and compare their Rolls Royce Corniche and the dictator-chic Mercedes ‘Grosser’ - ageing but massive luxury limos they bought for the price of a new Ford Mondeo. The Nissan GT-R wondercar gives Jeremy a thorough working over around Japan’s legendary Fuji circuit, and entrepreneurs Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis venture out from the Dragons’ Den to become the ‘Stars in a Reasonably Priced Car’.
Jeremy, Richard and James take on three German motoring rivals (including Nurburgring legend Sabine Schmidt) and face their toughest challenge yet. James chauffeurs some exceedingly large sumo wrestlers in some exceeding strange Japanese cars, and Richard attacks the test track in Mazda’s remarkable Furai concept car.
Top Gear Season 12
Top Gear returns with a crash, a bang and an overwhelming smell of burning. Jeremy, Richard and James decide to buy second-hand lorries, despite knowing almost nothing about the world of trucks, and then set about discovering how easy it is to be an HGV (heavy goods vehicle) driver - which turns out to be a lot harder than they thought. Also in this episode, Jeremy is on the test track with a scary Porsche 911, a tame Lamborghini Gallardo and a surprisingly talented Labrador, and chat-show legend Michael Parkinson is the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car.
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May travel to the USA to take three new generation muscle cars on an epic road trip from San Francisco to the heart of Utah. And after the excitement of their last American road trip, this time they do their best to avoid letting a mob of angry locals pelt them with rocks. Meanwhile, back in the UK, Jeremy scampers around the test track in the feisty new Fiat 500 Abarth and pop idol Will Young is the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car.
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May take on the challenge of making an ordinary second-hand car lap the test track as fast as a brand-new, purpose-built sports saloon. Also in the show, James travels to the frozen North and enlists the help of F1 world champion Mika Hakkinen in a quest to discover why the Finns are such good racing drivers. Meanwhile, Richard hammers around the track in the outlandish Veritas sports car, and Mark Wahlberg is the Hollywood Star In A Reasonably Priced Car.
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are challenged to drive from the heart of Switzerland to the North Western coast of England on just one tank of fuel. And as an incentive, the first one to arrive gets to turn on the Blackpool Illuminations. Back at the track, James tackles his first-ever power test in the amazing Pagani Zonda F Roadster and, after years of waiting, The Stig finally gets to set a lap time in the remarkable Bugatti Veyron.
Richard Hammond celebrates the 40th birthday of the iconic Ferrari Daytona. The Nissan GT-R is given a thorough work out around Japan’s legendary Fuji circuit.
Richard Hammond celebrates the 40th birthday of the iconic Ferrari Daytona by taking one back to its spiritual home on the Riviera before attempting to beat James May and a multi-million-pound power boat in a race from Portofino to St Tropez. Meanwhile, back in the UK Jeremy Clarkson is out on the test track testing the new BMW M3 saloon against a young pretender from Japan, the Lexus IS-F. Top Gear also tackles a political hot potato as Richard attempts to find the best sort of bus for British city streets by getting together everything from a hopper to a bendy bus and then having a race with them. Also, Grand Designs property guru Kevin McCloud is the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car.
Jeremy Clarkson and James May invade Greenham Common airbase to ask the question, did the Communists ever make a good car? Meanwhile, out on the test track, Richard Hammond goes crazy in the Veritas, a surprisingly insane sports car from Germany, and Jeremy conducts an almost ridiculously thorough road test of the new Ford Fiesta. Plus, mop-haired London mayor Boris Johnson is the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car.
James May travels to California to take a look at what is being hailed as the future of motoring - the hydrogen-powered Honda Clarity. Meanwhile, out on the test track, Jeremy Clarkson has a high-voltage encounter with the Tesla, a battery powered super-car, and Richard Hammond takes an affectionate look back at 50 years of Touring Car racing. The Star In A Reasonably Priced Car. is none other than living legend Tom Jones and, because it’s almost Christmas, there’ll be some festive fun and games in the studio to boot.
Episode 8: Vietnam Special
Top Gear ends the current series in epic style as Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May travel to Vietnam. Their aim is to travel the entire length of the country in just eight days, thereby achieving what the American military failed to do in 10 years. However, first they must each buy some suitable transport for the trip and, despite having several million Dong in their pockets, this proves to be of rather less value than they originally thought, especially in one of the most expensive car markets in the world. Nonetheless, the boys are resourceful and, with their wheels finally sorted, they set off on one of the most spectacular and incredible Top Gear road trips ever attempted.
Season 12 Special Features include:
•English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired
•Commentary to Vietnam Special with Executive Producer Andy Wilman & Crew
•Directors Cut of the 2007 Botswana Special
•Commentary to Botswana Special with Executive Producer Andy Wilman & Crew
Own both on DVD on January 12, 2010! For more information, check out the official site here.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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