Top Gear has its 18th season finale tonight on BBC America. That’s about 15 more seasons than most TV shows get these days. What makes the show so successful? Well, I think I have a few ideas…
1. The camaraderie. The show would never be the same without Jeremy, Richard and James hosting it. These are three blokes who not only love their subject, but they genuinely get along with one another, and that in turn makes the audience feel like we’re part of the group, too. They have a chemistry that can’t be duplicated. If one of these three ever decides to call it a day (and we’re very thankful they’ve stayed for a decade!), it’s time to throw in the towel.
2. The tone. This is not a serious car show. Though there are car reviews and features, it’s not going to tell you which car you should buy (unless you really do want to drive around with an Anarchy flag and a waterbed) or how you can pimp your ride. This is a show that’s about the love of cars by people who love cars. And frankly, I’d rather see if one can turn a Reliant Robin into a space shuttle than another cut-and-dried review of a minivan.
3. Unsuccessful challenges. I’m not promoting failure here – but it’s the fact that these guys aren’t afraid to try things that probably won’t work that makes the show so fantastic to watch. If they stood around and did only the things that were plausible, or safe, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. I don’t really care that most of the things Jeremy, Richard and James dream up have failed…I’m impressed that they’ve even tried.
Richard Hammond’s 10 Best Challenges
4. A spot of controversy. Continuing on with the above, if our hosts only ever said the things that every other interviewer says, or just the ones that are politically correct, we’d be turning the channel during the chat segments. While they’ve offended some people, that’s still better than being bored to tears.
5. Self-deprecation. Try to imagine the show without jokes about James’s sexual orientation or wardrobe, or Richard’s height or teeth whitening, or Jeremy’s weight or tendency to smash things with a hammer. You can’t, can you? Neither can I. Nor can I ever forget when they were willing to embarrass themselves by forming the (surprisingly awesome) Top Gear Band for their Comic Relief special. They’re always ready to fall on their faces for our entertainment.
6. Hatred of caravans, minivans and Morris Marinas. Thank you, Top Gear, for doing us the public service of eliminating as many of these off the face of the planet as possible. You do what some of us merely dream about doing, and it’s a little bit of wish fulfillment for me every time you somehow end a caravan.
7. Audience interaction. If you’re lucky enough to be in the audience for the taping of the show (very lucky indeed, as the waiting list is years long), you may be asked for your opinion, or you may become a spectacle. Jeremy in particular is always willing to drag the audience into whatever discussion is going on at the time, and/or poke fun of them. Remember the guy who looked like Jesus that he hauled up on stage in Series 14? With Top Gear, the fans are part of the mayhem…sometimes voluntarily and sometimes not.
8. The introductions. Which hardly ever have anything to do with the contents of the episode you’re about to see (“Tonight, I wear a hat. Richard wears a hat. And James wears a hat.”). But that’s what makes them so funny. They remind me of the introductions to Police Squad! from 1982, where the titles didn’t have anything to do with what the announcer said either, and that’s why I love them.
9. The Stig. I’ve still got a bitter taste in my mouth from involuntarily learning the identity of the last White Stig, but that doesn’t change how much fun we’ve had with every useless fact about him (“Some say he knows only two facts about ducks, and they’re both wrong”). Or Fat Stig from America. Or The Stig’s vegetarian cousin. Or the Chinese “Attack Stig.” I could go on, but I don’t think I need to.
10. True love of the subject matter. As mentioned earlier on, you get the sense that everyone on Top Gear really loves cars. They’re not just three guys banging about going fast and doing crazy stunts with them. These are legitimate petrolheads who just happen to be able to get away with just about anything. And we’re all the better for it.
Don’t miss the Top Gear season finale tonight at 8:30 PM ET/PT on BBC America. And if you’ve enjoyed season 18, it’s available for pre-order on DVD and arrives in stores on June 12.
For more from Brittany Frederick, visit my BuddyTV writer page, and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.
Image courtesy of BBC America