As it continues to 'motor' along, collecting accolades and an ever growing fanbase, Britian's terrific Top Gear is also responsible for something reprehensible, something no man should be forced to face - the inevitable American revamp. Claiming the same title and trading the prim personalities of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May for three tools in geek regalia, the US update is like watching a bad SNL skit being taken way too seriously. It just can't hold a candle to the UK version, and how could it. Top Gear remains one of the BBC's longest running shows, an international phenomenon that started off in 1977 as a simple half-hour basic car news magazine format. In the 1990s, presenter Clarkson suggested a more entertaining revamp, and the resulting program has become iconic. Season 16 covers much of the same ground as past series, giving into to celebrity and stunts while always maintaining the cheeky challenge of making automobile reviews cool. With the addition of a couple of sensational specials, this Blu-ray release represents some of the series' very best.
From there, almost every installment of Top Gear has a competition--between Jeremy and the others, between Richard in a car and some hang gliding across an Eastern European countryside, between James and his own sense of propriety--and the results are typically spread out over the course of the rest of the hour. Add in a sequence where a "star" (with rare exception, some British personality or politician) is placed in the show's reasonable priced car. After a jovial sit down Q&A, they race around the track and their times are compared to those of other "stars."
As with most British TV, Season 16 is comprised of six shows. Here is a brief overview of what is offered on each installment:
Episode 1: The following cars are reviewed - Ariel Atom 500/ Škoda Yeti/ Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet: Richard challenges a VW Beetle to its 'offspring,' the Porsche. John Bishop is the Star in the NEW Reasonably Priced Car.
Episode 2: Reviews: Ferrari 599 GTO/ England vs. Australia in a vehicular version of The Ashes/ Boris Becker is the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car.
Episode 3: Review: Rolls-Royce Ghost /Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG/ Ford Focus RS500 / Cosworth Impreza STI CS400 /Volvo C30 PCP/ Feature Challenge: The crew travels to Albania to see which of three cars would be the best for a mafia boss / Jonathan Ross is the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car.
Episode 4: Reviews: Pagani Zonda R / Pagani Zonda Tricolore/ Feature Race: Secondhand BMWs are put to the test / Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the Stars in the Reasonably Priced Car.
Episode 5: Review: Audi RS5 / BMW M3 Competition Pack/ Feature Challenge: Everyone heads to Norway to help clear snow with a converted Combine Harvester / Amber Heard is the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car.
Episode 6: Reviews: Jaguar XJ/ Porsche 959 / Ferrari F40 / Feature Challenge: Jeremy drives across Britain, Richard drives his childhood fantasy car, James 'pilots' the latest NASA space exploration vehicle / John Prescott is the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car.
Season - or Series - 16 is an interesting one on many levels. As part of the bonus features, we are treated to two special episodes where the gang comes to America (and runs into typical US ignorance and intolerance) while a second installment sees them retracing the Biblical route of the Three Wise Men. Both are enjoyable extended illustrations as to how the program manages to remain viable after so many years. Indeed, just when you think you've seen it all, Clarkson and his pals are chased off by Southern rednecks hellbent on sending them to their own stiff upper lipped layer of Hillbilly Hades. From there on, the trips to Albania and Norway are typical "Ugly Englander" fun (and very funny), while The Ashes competition is interesting for, again, the way in which Australia has adapted the series as its own. As usual, the secondhand challenges remains the most enjoyable. Nothing beats watching the guys try to overcome the various mechanical and personal embarrassments their supposedly excellent cars of choice present.
As for the stars this time around, the USA special gives us Danny Boyle, who is just as amazing as an interview subject as he is a director. Elsewhere, Boris Becker seems a tad out of his element while John Prescott (former Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State) gets his far share of negative catcalls upon arrival. Jonathan Ross is always a pip, trying to one-up Clarkson as both a wit and host, while Amber Heard comes across as down to Earth and very personable. That just leaves the comedians, and of the three, John Bishop is the business. He is funny, self-effacing, and ready to take on any criticism or complaint with viable one liners. For their part, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz's Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are terrific, if a bit tentative. They don't go gonzo and instead keep their at the ready rejoinders holstered. Indeed, some of the guests take their time on Top Gear very seriously indeed. Perhaps it's the fact that, among all the other talk type shows around the globe, it remains one of the most beloved, and best.