Forget Conan, Letterman or Leno, the funniest guys on American TV are British imports Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, hosts of the BBC's Top Gear. Stacked with exotic cars, hilarious challenges and entertaining guests, the Complete Season 13 is another strong entry of the British auto show. Top Gear is smashing entertainment for petrolheads and passengers alike.
Each week, Top Gear hosts Clarkson, Hammond and May get behind the wheel of the world's most exotic cars, putting them through the paces on the open road and on the show's test track. Each episode has a similar format: The guys review a hot new car before their cloaked test driver, The Stig, determines its lap time. The hosts then dish over auto-related news before beginning some sort of challenge. If there is a guest, they chat on the studio's signature green couch before Clarkson replays their attempt at test-track glory in "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car." Episodes usually conclude by wrapping up the challenge and with an additional short vehicle spotlight.
With its gorgeous photography and elaborate set-ups, Top Gear is a classy show all around. The producers obviously go out of their way to make everything as visually impressive as possible. Considering the amount of mayhem the show causes throughout the UK, they must work a lot of overtime. And auto manufactures no doubt rue the day they sent their eco-boxes or unrefined sports coupes (pronounced like toupee) to Top Gear to have them promptly berated by the hosts.
The show highlights more than a few cars the average driver could never dream of purchasing, but Top Gear also features less expensive vehicles in both its road tests and challenges. One of the funnier challenges in Season 13 involves finding the perfect car for a 17-year-old, based on the price to buy, price to insure and safety features. Other highlights include actress Sienna Miller on the test track only five days after getting her driver's license, Hammond and May racing a letter sent by the British Royal Mail in a Porsche Panamera, and some hilarious advertisements the guys make for the new diesel Volkswagen Scirocco TDi.
Top Gear episodes air on BBC America a season after they air in Britain, so the episodes in Season 13 are actually from 2009. Regardless, Top Gear: The Complete Season 13 is excellent entertainment thanks to its charismatic hosts, great production value and jaw-dropping cars. Top Gear is a really great show.
There are seven episodes, each running roughly one hour, in this three-disc set of Top Gear: The Complete Season 13. Discs one and two house three episodes each, and the final episode and bonus features are found on the third disc.
BBC presents Top Gear on DVD in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Season 13 is apparently the last shot on video and film, with future seasons getting the high-definition treatment. Despite the source material, the show looks good on DVD, with a presentation surpassing the quality of BBC America's broadcast. Quality varies somewhat throughout based on location, but colors are strong and detail is generally good. I noticed no digital manipulation or issues like shimmering and aliasing.
The audio is encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Dialogue is clear throughout, and the track balances voices, music and effects well. A 5.1 track might have given the proceedings more rumble, but the 2.0 track is reasonably beefy, engaging the subwoofer and surround speakers when necessary. English subtitles are available.
A nice set of extras are included on the third disc:
Stig POV (7:07) - A series of cockpit views with The Stig in the driver's seat.
Spitfire Magic (3:44) - The guys take flight in some WWII-era Supermarine Spitfire aircraft and reaffirm why they have the best jobs in the world.
Ken Block Slo-Mo (3:08) - This is slow-motion footage set to music from the episode where American stunt driver Ken Block drives May around in his modified Subaru Impreza.
Extended interviews with Brian Johnson (15:22) and Jenson Button (15:06) - These interviews with Formula One driver Button and AC/DC frontman Johnson are much longer than in their respective episodes.
Lamborghini Murciélago LP670-4-SV 200 mph Run in Abu Dhabi (1:09) - This is some amazing in-car footage of the Lamborghini going from standstill to 200 mph.
Train Race Sequence with JC (3:29) - The extras conclude with some bonus footage of Clarkson aboard a replication 1949 steam locomotive.
Witty, entertaining and occasionally irreverent, Top Gear: The Complete Season 13 represents the best of both British and American television. Even viewers with sparse automobile knowledge should find plenty to enjoy, as hosts Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond are the funniest guys on television. The BBC's release of the thirteenth season features solid video and audio, as well as some nice extras. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.