Low Gear

It is perhaps the BBC’s biggest money-spinner, generating millions of pounds in revenue. You can buy books, a monthly magazine, toys and games and even cakes emblazoned with the images of the hosts. It’s enormously popular, boasting a loyal and worldwide fanbase.

It’s Top Gear, and I hate it. It’s a prime example of safe Sunday programming that just plods on and on and on doing the same old stuff week after week. It’s turned into a smug, bloated cliche. It’s not even interesting enough for satirists and comedians to have a pop at it now. It just sits there, taking up a chunk of primetime scheduling, getting in the way and stinking up the joint. It’s like Last Of The Summer Wine for petrolheads. Songs of Praise for the sort of person that buys every new Clapton compilation, regardless of how many versions of the same songs they own.

Why do I hate Top Gear? Let me count the ways.

1) TG has always been obsessed with high brake horse power and high costs. They will always treat the cars that their average viewer can afford as barely worthy of contempt, and will work themselves into a froth over horribly uncomfortable, stupidly low-slung motors that cost more than your mortgage. Inevitably, the reviews of these cars will feature plenty of shaky interior cam shots of Clarkson mugging at the camera, and screaming like a girl every time he takes a corner a little too tightly. As yet, there is no way of getting these cars to go any faster than the Astras and Focuses that will surround it on the Oxford Ring Road on a busy weekday morning. And you can never get the weekly shop in the back.

2) Star In A Reasonably Priced Car. Someone, somewhere, must care that David Tennant thrashed a Hyundai around a track two-one hundredths of a second faster than Tara Parker-Tomkinson. I have yet to meet that person. And I care so little that I didn’t even check to see if that opening sentence was accurate or not. This has to be the most pointless exercise since Saturday Kitchen’s Omelette Challenge, which at least has the advantage of preparing something that could perhaps be edible once you pick the eggshells out of it.

L-R: Squeaky, Grumpy, Dopey

3) The hosts. I’ve restrained myself here, as it would be very easy to fire up a rant about the hosts of Top Gear and just never stop. But it would be a little unfair, as outside the confines of the show they can be personable and intelligent. Yes, even Clarkson in small doses. However, on a Sunday night, they come across like escapees from a 1960s Victor school serial. There’s the creepy little hamster, school sneak and schemer. Tim Nice-But-Dim. And of course, Crusher Tomkins, Scourge of the Ninth. The “banter” and “rivalry” is so blatantly scripted now that they can barely disguise the fact that it’s an autocue fill to get them to the next film bit. Which brings me on to…

4) The challenges. Oh Gods. Get from improbable destination to unreachable destination in infeasibly short amount of time, with improbable restrictions. Cars should be hamfistedly modified in such a way that they are no longer road legal. Bits should drop off. For extra comedy value, one of the cars should either burst into flames or fall off a cliff. Preferably both. If there’s a way to get in a pop at caravans or Robin Reliants, so much the better.

And then we drove it into the water and you'll never GUESS what happened!

5) The Stig. Some say he’s the senior test driver of whichever manufacturer has supplied their horribly expensive prototype to be thrashed round TG’s test course that week. Well, of course he bloody is. Anyone that thinks otherwise is an idiot. Which reminds me.
A bloke has been hanging around motorway service stations dressed in The Suit. People are actually gullible enough to believe it’s him, and have been posing for photos and autographs. The only thing sadder than this is the large number of modded 206 drivers who thinks it’s funny to wear an “I am The Stig” t-shirt.

Actually, this is quite funny.

6) The Top Gear “look”. How do you liven up interminable footage of cars going round a track? Simple. Film the cars at a low angle and put a purple wash across the sky. Heavily vignetting the frame (making the edges look darker than the middle) is also a favourite. Note from a professional colourist – this stopped being interesting in 1997.

7) The Winter Olympic Special. You’ve seen it. Yes, you have. You know, the one where they throw a mini down a ski-ramp. The one that’s been shown one a month for the last four years on Dave. I swear, if I come across a Suzuki Swift playing football on ice one more time, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll change channel.
Problem is, it’ll probably be on that channel as well.

The simple fact is that Top Gear is well past it’s best, and it’s best was barely watchable in the first place. I’m gob-smacked by the sheer lazy contempt it shows for the audience. The studio audience don’t even get seats. It’s stuck in a climate-change denying time loop, thinks that the worst crime imaginable is the proliferation of GATSO cameras, and believes that every man (and the occasional woman, if she looks like Kirsten Scott Thomas) has the right to drive as fast as they like. Anyone who’s been stuck on the M25 on a Friday afternoon knows the absurdity of that argument.

When even the show’s producer, Andy Wilman, admits in an extraordinary piece on Top Gear’s own site that the show has lost it’s way then I think we can safely conclude that this iteration of the show is coming to an end. Apart from the endless bloody repeats and recuts on the BBC rerun channels of course. The final episode of the show will be a happy day for me.

But then, what do I know. I’m a cyclist.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

3 thoughts on “Low Gear”

  1. Well, what to say in response to this?! I am a Top Gear devotee – more attached to it than ever after seeing The Hamster twice in one day on the streets of Cheltenham this winter, but I digress…

    Why do I like Top Gear even though I drive a Peugeot 206 which, according to Clarkson, is the most unreliable car ever made even though it’s actually one of the most reliable cars ever made?

    It takes the piss out of itself – they know they’re corny, out of touch and grumpy old misogynistic gits. They are caricatures of themselves and I can’t help liking them – can’t help it. How can I possibly dislike James May? Especially after that wine programme with Oz.

    The car tests are boring and I usually ignore them. I like the cars but they all look the same and I’m never going to be able to get near one and I can’t stop wondering how far they get on a tank of petrol. But I watch Top Gear for the challenges.. All right they’re hairbrained and choreographed but watching Jeremy Clarkson ride across Vietnam on a motorbike was one of the funniest things I’ve had my licence fee spent on.

    The Star in a Reasonably Priced Car is often tedious but now again they get lucky – thinking especially of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz last week.

    They blow up caravans.

    So what I’m saying, sort of, is that there’s a lot of crap in it, but it’s rather endearing crap, and it’s outweighed by the laughs the challenges and other features such as the News give me. I kinda like cars…

  2. Are you sure you like Top Gear? If I may pluck selected bits from your reply…

    “…there’s a lot of crap in it…”
    “…often tedious…”
    “The car tests are boring and I often ignore them.”

    …but that would be incredibly unfair, and equal to the turdish behaviour of marketing bods that will pick one positive word out of a negative movie review to stick on the posters.

    Seems to me that you like Top Gear for the same reasons that drive me into a screaming rage. I watched last Sunday’s ep all the way through, more out of curiosity than anything else. I wanted to claw my eyes out by the halfway point. The Cruise/Diaz thing was eye-crossingly sycophantic (and I have to wonder – was the fact that the Cruiser got to the top of the leader board ANYTHING to do with his agreement to appear? Or am I just rumour-mongering?).
    But there was actually a watchable segment to the show. The Ayrton Senna tribute at the end was informed, passionate and genuinely moving. It was a light-year away from the usual tired arsing about. Just goes to show what the programme makers are capable of when they’re not working to formula.

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