Posted by: Paul | February 7, 2011

Top Gear Stalls

I like Top Gear. At least, I did until last Sunday. But in that episode, as has been widely reported, for me the lazy playground banter crossed the line into rather offensive casual racism. And I wasn’t alone.

Steve Coogan says more or less everything I felt about Clarkson and Co’s ‘antics’ last weekend, and the BBC’s pathetic attempts to brush it under the carpet. I’m all for a bit of poking fun at anyone and everyone, especially if there’s a political point to it, but when it just becomes lazy, malicious, schoolboyish vindictiveness just for the sake of getting a cheap laugh from an audience of sycophants who’ve been kept waiting in the cold all day and are desperate to have a good time at all costs, that’s where you have to draw the line, for me.

I’m just disappointed, really. I mean, I don’t hold either Top Gear or it’s presenters up as paragons of moral standards or anything – quite the opposite most of the time. But the show’s remit to be ‘cheeky’ has been exceeded when you’re just outright attacking people and perpetuating lazy stereotypes. When the show went out, James May might aswell have handed Richard Hammond a spade to dig a bigger hole for himself. Clarkson I’ve come to expect this kind of thing from, May perhaps less so, but traditionally it’s been Hammond who has reined in the more unpalatable elements of the banter. He totally threw away any remaining credibility that night.

It’s interesting, because having been to see the show recorded live just over a year ago, I came away with different interpretations of the characters than I had before. Off camera, Clarkson was…I hesitate to use the word charming…but he was self effacing, good humoured, and seemed genuinely pleased and thankful for the show’s continuing success. He was polite and pleasant with the crowd and not at all the arrogant personality I would have expected from his screen persona. In short, I was quietly impressed and had my prejudices put out of my mind.

Not so Hammond. Hammond’s success seemed to have gone to his head. He was callous, arrogant, and extremely self-important. Not at all the ‘nice guy’ of the bunch that I had expected. May on the other hand remained more of an enigma – very quiet off camera, he came across as actually quite shy in front of large groups of people. He’s much taller than I expected though.

Anyway, nice to see Jonathan Ross (of all people!) puncture a bit of a comic hole in the controversy last night. I hope the show can put this kind of nastiness behind it and freshen things up a bit, as to be honest, the same old formula is getting tired. It does still occasionally raise a big laugh – and for that reason they still have me as a viewer for now – but they need to switch things up a bit, I feel. The most successful and rewarding shows to watch by far are the specials – perhaps it’s time to take a Doctor Who-style year off from full series, recharge the batteries, and intersperse the gap with a couple of feature length road trips. Driving across the Outback, anyone? Perhaps the boys should take a detour past Wolf Creek on the way…or have I gone too far? 😉

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