At this point, the cars no longer matter. They're a never-ending parade of high tech parts and gearhead fantasies that render each new model interchangeable within the TV series dynamic. Sure, there is someone in the home audience hoping that the new Lamborghini gets a critical overhaul by the seminal series hosts, and there is no denying the thrill of seeing a high profile star (Alice Cooper!) in a reasonably priced Kia. But the real draw of Top Gear circa 2012 (or in the case of this Blu-ray release, Summer of 2011) remains the quirky, eccentric approach to car culture. From trying to retrofit the British railway system with a new kind of "train" to taking vehicles of questionable present day value and running them through a collection of insane challenges, our trio of hosts - aging icon Jeremy Clarkson, pop hit show host wannabe Richard Hammond, and cultural curmudgeon James May - now make up the majority of the show's continuing allure. While autos come and go, the companionship and chemistry between this hilarious carburetor cabal makes the series a seminal broadcast great - and any home video release a must-own addition to one's collection.
Almost every installment of Top Gear has a competition--between Jeremy and the others, between Richard in a car and someone swimming the Channel, between James and a his own inherent slowness--and the results are spread out over the course of the rest of the hour. Add in a sequence where a "star" (Simon Pegg, Tom Cruise) 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 17 is comprised of six shows. Here is a brief overview of what is offered on each installment:
Episode 1: The following cars are reviewed - Marauder/ BMW 1 Series M Coupe/ Mini John Cooper Works WRC/ Jaguar E-Type / Feature Challenge: James vs. Olympic Skeleton Gold Medal Winner Amy Williams/ Alice Cooper is the Stars in the Reasonably Priced Car.
Episode 2: Reviews: Aston Martin Virage / CitroŽn DS3 Racing/ Fiat 500C Abarth/ Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup/ Feature Race: The trio take on Italy and the Monaco Grand Prix in their choice of high performance hatchbacks/ Ross Noble is the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car.
Episode 3: Review: Range Rover Evoque SD4/ McLaren MP4-12C/ Ferrari 458 Italia/ Feature Challenge: Second Hand Cars for the Price of a Nissan Pixo/ Sebastian Vettel is the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car.
Episode 4: Reviews: Jaguar XKR-S/ Nissan GT-R/ Feature Challenge: New, Cheaper Train Travel via Modified Caravans /Rowan Atkinson is the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car.
Episode 5: Review: Lotus T125/ Updated Jensen Interceptor/ Feature Challenge: The Team Use Second-Hand Military Equipment to Destroy a Block of Buildings/ Bob Geldof is the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car.
Episode 6: Reviews: Nissan Leaf / Peugeot iOn/ Lamborghini Aventador/ Feature Challenge: Jeremy and James to the Seaside - In Electric Cars/ Richard Hangs out with an Amputee Rally Team / Louis Walsh is the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car.
And Series 17 gives them ample opportunity to run ramshackle over each other. When the trio take the hot hatchback challenge - well, at least TWO of them bring the proper kind of vehicle - they make you want to take the trip across Italy and around the Monaco Grand Prix track with them. Similarly, the train episode is a classic of preplanned bumbling and bluster. As the various snooty suits from the myriad of British bureaucracies look down their noses at the men's attempt to take rail travel "to the people," we piss ourselves laughing at their lame, blinkered approaches. One of the best excursions though has to be James and Jeremy's journey to the seaside in the latest model of electric cars. Only able to travel a certain set distance before refueling, they wind up discovering the vehicle's Achilles Heel - there is no place to recharge them. Eventually, they beg a college to let them run an extension cord into one of their offices so they can top up (which only takes...13 hours?!?!?!). By the end of the trip, the duo have determined that no one in their right mind would ever even consider driving one of these battery draining albatrosses - unless the UK builds a series of electrified grids over the motorways and turns the machines into mock bumper cars.
As for the other aspects of the show, this Series has some great 'stars.' Alice Cooper is so genuine and genial that he almost beams with personability, while Rowan Aktinson takes the more serious approach - and still wows the crowd with his wordless responses to certain luxury models. While Louis Walsh, Sebastian Vettel, and Ross Noble will be relatively unknown to American viewers, the real gem here is former Boomtown Rat and Live Aid founder (Sir) Bob Geldof. Razzing him mercilessly for his choice in transportation, the man who made famine in Africa an '80s cause celeb dishes right back, taking Clarkson down several sarcastic pegs. Of course, if all you care about is torque and RPMS, the series continues its lingering love affair with gas guzzlers. Richard's overview of the massive Marauder (about three times larger than a Hummer) is hilarious, as is James' trek to the USA to discuss the latest Range Rover. Yes, we get the sleek, sophisticated PR presentations that would make any manufacturer gush, but the guys always balance our said showcases with honest, legitimate criticism. This, along with the other stapes of the series makes Top Gear an absolute delight. Leave it to the British to take a subject as dry as car culture and turn it into an hour long exercise in entertainment.