Thursday, September 24, 2009

An Unrequited Love: Top Gear

By: Michael Lenoch

Top Gear is a show that features insightful reviews of practical everyday cars, to seemingly ironic critiques of ear-splitting supercars, as if that was to say they were cost-efficient or worth their generally steep prices. By this banner of Top Gear at the top, it may appear as a generic, European-centric science show. Well, I can confidently say, it is not some explosive-laden, destruction-filled show made for 12-year-olds; but rather, much more.

To avoid monotony, the producers always seem to know when to break from reviewing cars. This is done by throwing some challenges and celebrity appearances, where the celebrities take a spin on the Top Gear test track in a 'reasonably priced car' into the mix. But as for the challenges, they vary from utterly absurd and unlikely endeavors of impossibility, to demonstrations that may actually prove useful. For example, in this segment on "Cars for 17 year olds", there are moments that serve as comedic relief, although I don't imagine this challenge would be found as useful by anyone -- it's purely intended to be entertaining. And does a solid job doing so.

The car reviews progress as an average novel, film, or video game review would, and use understatement and fictitiousness to their advantage. Each review is captured by a camera in the car itself, as well as several cameras places periodically throughout the test track. Top Gear's test track was previously owned by Lotus Motors, and serves as a great litmus test, filled with wide variety of broad and sharp turns and a quarter-mile strip of runway that gauge the acceleration, top speed, grip, and overall performance of the given car quite accurately.

The reviews themselves have a distinct formula that nearly every successive review either improves upon, or follows exactly. Traditionally, the reviews come to a "But", "However", or "Although", and sometimes may even degenerate into harsh and senseless criticisms, eviscerating either the most minute or gargantuan failings of the given manufacturer. But what makes the reviews genuinely entertaining are the gleeful expressions any of the three presenters may use. This comes as refreshing to know the person you are watching on television is actually enthused with whatever he is presenting and loves his job, not himself.

The Stig is Top Gear's mascot. He is a wordless driver, dressed in white Alpinestars overalls, with a white helmet, whom of which outmatches any of the charismatic hosts in terms of lap times and inherent driving skill.

To the credit of BBC, the "identity of the white-suited Stig ... has been an open secret within the motoring world for some years, with newspapers refraining from publishing his name, to uphold the spirit of the programme." I simply love the unabashed approach the Top Gear crew embraces in order to run with the unknown racecar driver cliché, or in this case, the Stig.

There are very few programmes that can rival Top Gear's level of entertainment value, and for that matter, even fewer auto shows. The sly, gentlemanly British sense of humor makes Top Gear even more appealing.

As an American, I adore the blatantly honest criticisms of cars that have been all but conspicuously absent on even the most enthusiast of networks here in the land of the stars and stripes, such as the Speed Channel. I doubt I will ever tire of watching Top Gear. Good on ya mates, and motor on!

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