Starring: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May
Produced by Andy Wilman
When we were young we dreamed of growing up and loosing the shackles that bound us. Nobody to tell us when to go to bed, nobody to tell us what we could or couldn’t eat, nobody to tell us who we had to spend time with, of course it was an empty dream. Rules, responsibility, reputation chain us down sure as any parent. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if we could grow up and everything was truly as free as we had ever dreamed. That’s the dream that is Top Gear. Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are the three kids whose Mother never called them home for dinner. They never had to leave the playground. Their toys just got faster, more powerful and more expensive.
Top Gear is a fantasy. The three presenters use and abuse beautiful luxury and performance automobiles that most of us could never afford. They pretend to actually review the cars and occasionally will argue spiritedly about the virtues and shortcomings of this car over that but at the end of the day it’s just a glorious excuse to take some of the most lusted after automobiles on the market and cane them mercilessly around their test track. Occasionally they will pick three examples of a market segment, for example three exotic supercars that aren’t a Ferrari 458 and embark on a road trip, in this example it was a trip across Italy in episode one. Now all of this zipping around the track and beautiful real estate may eventually pale so the boys are smart enough to break it up a little bit. Just to keep them in touch with the rest of the world they will invite a celebrity on the show to chat and to take a lap around the track in a feature they cleverly call Star in a Reasonable Priced Car. This season the stars include Matt LeBlanc, Ryan Reynolds, Michael Fassbender, Matt Smith, Slash and Kimi Raikkonen.
The producer Andy Wilman is a pretty savvy guy, he knows that if all the boys ever did was thrash expensive hardware and hobnob with celebrities nobody would be able to watch them after two or three episodes. So the show conspires to keep the boys humble. For every supercar jaunt across Italy there will be a challenge pitting the boys scrounging skills, automotive judgment and sometimes their fabrication skills to the test. This season the challenges include fabricating viable off road mobility scooters for fewer than twenty five hundred pounds which is probably around five thousand dollars give or take a few grand. They also see if they can go racing for less expense that golfing.
But to really keep the boys grounded every season or so there will be a Top Gear Special. Season eighteen is one of those seasons. In the very first episode the boys all go to India, in an effort to bolster trade between the India and the UK. Clarkson, Hammond and May set across the sub continent in a Jaguar XKS, Mini Cooper, and a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and trunks full of English products to show off. Now that may sound like the three are just up to their usual hijinks but these are all twenty year old cars well past their prime. They travel from Mumbai, to Jaipur, and on through Dehli on their way to the India/China border without causing a major diplomatic crisis, well there was a complaint from the Indian High Commission but I wouldn’t consider that a major diplomatic crises.
Through all of the pantomime and pathos the show has its own distinctive look. The heavy use of graduated filters and not so subtle vignetting make footage from the show instantly recognizable. Even if you don’t have petrol, that’s what they call gas across the pond, on the brain the variety of the camera work and the editing make the track sequences fresh and interesting even considering that this is the eighteenth season of a show where sixty percent of the footage is of cars going around a track or down a road. Of course any show that runs this long is going to have slumps and Top Gear is not immune. Season Eighteen is not the best season ever but it’s a good solid season. Three or four seasons ago the show seemed to lose its track a bit and was on the verge of becoming a caricature of itself, but the last two seasons have proved that they have moved past that and have found the restraint to keep the show from just going completely over the top.
The video is presented in widescreen and looks great for a DVD, though it’s a bit disappointing after seeing Season 17 on Blu-Ray. Besides some very subtle aliasing I never noticed any digital or compression artifacts.
The audio presented in stereo in English only, there are English subtitles. It gets the job done. The mix is professional and there are no issues or problems it just doesn’t pop like the video.
The Packaging and Bonus Features:
The three disc set comes in a single width DVD case. The artwork is appropriate and consistent with the other releases in the series. There is a good bit of extra material, but unless you just love the SIRPC segments then the extras are a little flat. There is behind the scenes footage for all of the guests as they are out on the track, there is the season previews and some outtakes from the season, but the heart of the extras is the extra footage of the Stars that they put in the Reasonably Priced Car. Would at least a commentary of the India Special be asking too much? Last and possibly least is the first episode of the second season of Top Gear America which to be honest does not suck, and actually shows some promise, but it just seems weak after watching a whole season of the original show.
Overall (not an average) 8/10
I’ve always been a gear head so Top Gear is like Nirvana for me, actually that’s not true they would have to get a couple of orders of magnitude more technical for it to be true automotive Nirvana, but what’s truly awesome about Top Gear is it’s wide appeal. Even non car people can get a glimmer of my obsession by checking out Clarkson, Hammond and May’s antics.
The Show: 9/10
The Video: 7/10
The Audio: 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features: 6/10
Overall (not and average): 8/10