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Top Gear (2002)
This is one of the most well made stylish shows on TV.
Let me say that this is easily my favorite show on TV...ever. It's not just because I am a huge "petrol head" automobile fan either. More importantly, each episode is so finely crafted. The cinematography, music, commentary and choice of subject matter is second to none.
Top Gear could have easily just shot a car sitting on some asphalt and talked about it. Instead, they use all types of lens filters to color shots, cloud part of the shot, etc. They use high speed cameras to show a tire spinning in slow motion with the smoke wafting off the pavement. They take shots from helicopters high above through patchy cloud cover as a car cruises down a winding race track. Every shot is beautifully executed.
This camera work would be beautiful alone, but it has been paired with a fantastic soundtrack. Every song is picked to illustrate some sort of emotion. For instance, the main presenter, Jeremy Clarkson is driving his beautiful Aston Martin DB9 through the French countryside and he begins to speak about the beauty of the car and how it is like no other driving experience. It is his favorite car. As he is talking, the sun is setting and they use a soft filter on the camera with an amber tint. To top it all off they play Massive Attack's "Heat Miser". If you know this song it is a slow, warm, almost sad mixture of simple piano key notes and deep string instruments. It fits perfectly and really conveys the emotion of the moment. I can't stress enough how NO show on TV would even think of using songs from little known artists like Massive Attack. I could go forever but just know that they play punk, classic rock, new wave, classical, hip-hop and obscure UK electronic...and it all fits beautifully. Producers of TV and even movies should get some guts and learn that we know this music and it has a huge impact on the depth of a show.
With all of this fine camera work and music as a backdrop comes some great commentary from the 3 presenters. Jeremy Clarkson (the older know it all), Richard Hammond (the young wild one), and James May (the conservative middle age guy) combine to bounce intelligent and very opinionated commentary off each other. This is all mostly scripted, but they do it in a natural way. It all comes off as fun and off the cuff. They don't pull punches either. They regularly attack the government officials, protest groups, auto execs, and other countries. It is great to see a show that is not afraid to say whatever it wants without fear of offending.
Lastly, the choice of cars is fantastic. If you watch this show, likely you have some interest in cars (you don't have to...it's great entertainment). If you do, you'll appreciate how they pick everything from exotic supercars to econo boxes. They pick not only the obvious in each car class, but also some lesser known and interesting cars as well. Vehicles from all over the world are put to the test. I really love the fact that they pick some wildly expensive exotics and some extremely valuable collectors cars and actually drive them hard. Car shows usually show you these valuable cars, but then drive them slowly around because they are afraid of damaging them. Top Gear does a fantastic job of keeping the car reviews interesting. Want to see how fast a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti is? Well, lets put Jeremy in it and race it against a passenger jet carrying Hammond and Mays from London to Switzerland. How agile and fast is a Mitsubishi Evo? Let's put a champion rally racer in it and race it down a snowy mountain road against a championship bobsled team on a equal length chute. It's ideas like this that have kept this show fresh for so long.
There are many more aspects of this show I could talk about (ie. The Stig, Stars in a Reasonably Priced Car, the news, etc) but I am being a freak. I will end by telling you that the Discovery Channel has already aired a number of "edited for the USA" UK original episodes here in the States. They were chopped up and lost a lot of their flow and character. I was thrilled to see that Americans could get a chance to see this show. I was disappointed in Discovery for editing out a lot of the British slang, foreign cars, and worst of all the fun jabs at American culture. Are we Americans that sensitive that we can't handle pokes at our weight, love of anything big, gas guzzlers, and that our auto industry is falling behind? Are these secrets? Apparently Discovery execs think so. Well, Top Gear has announced they are making in conjunction with Discovery Channel a "Top Gear USA". They have said that the UK test run on Discovery was well received but (in their infinite wisdom) they think that a new USA version will go over better here. They have pulled the edited UK originals from Discovery and have already started shooting the new Top Gear USA. It is complete with a new trio of hosts, their own test track, and the Stig from the UK show. The biggest differences will most likely be no studio audience, only cars that we've heard of here, and a lot more US made cars. If you ask me this is a huge mistake. This show works as it is. Everyone I know here in the US that watches the unedited originals loves it. It goes to the old saying, "If it isn't broken, don't try and fix it.". I believe we will end up with a watered down, poorly conceived, cheaply made variation of a good thing. Wait...isn't that why America's auto industry is falling way behind? Ironic isn't it?