James May's Man Lab - Series 1
BFS Entertainment // Unrated // $24.98 // March 27, 2012
Review by John Sinnott | posted March 27, 2012
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The Show:

I'm a big fan on the BBC TV show Top Gear, and my favorite host on that show is easily Captain Slow, James May. He has a sense of humor, but you get the idea that he still thinks about problems rather than just looking for a bigger hammer. He's slightly refined, but still knows how to have fun (just look at his hair style). So I was excited when I heard that he had another series, James May's Man Lab, and that it was being released on this side of the pond. I was slightly disappointed when I discovered that the first season consists of only three hour-long episodes, but what was worse was the fact that the show doesn't really have a focus or point. It's just James and some other guys doing some random things. While it might be fun for them, it's hardly riveting television.

As James points out at the beginning of the first episode, for the entire history of man, males have been builders, creators, and doers. But in the last generation (or so) we've become helpless imbeciles who can't do anything useful. He quotes the percentage of men who don't know how to wire a plug, or who have used a flat-bladed screwdriver as a chisel as examples. His show is an attempt to put a stop to that trend and get men excited about doing manly things!

He sets up base in the Man Lab, that has a workshop, a bathroom and a leisure area, but the other comforts that they'll want they'll have to build themselves. In the first episode he tackles a kitchen by making a concrete counter top, in the next one they put in a pub, and the series finishes off with the installation of a home theater setup complete with film projector.

This is not a building show however. (They don't spend a lot of time telling you how to make any of the things that they construct.) That's only a short part of each installment. James also teaches a coworker how to woo a woman (badly), how to navigate in a boat (badly), how to defuse a WWII German bomb (it blows up) and puts together an amateur orchestra and gives a performance. They also put together a model train set, make a remote controlled mobile picnic table, attach a strip of fly paper to a mini-helicopter to catch flies (it doesn't work) and we get to watch a news anchor change a tire.

In this show, James May shows viewers how to make a sandwich. It's riveting.

If you're wondering what all of these things have to do with each other, I was too. That's the problem with the show; it's just an assortment clips of guys doing stuff. Not really interesting stuff either, and they don't make it very funny. The part in the first episode about disarming a bomb was mildly interesting, but most of the reason was because the spent the time explaining how the fuse and trigger mechanism worked and exactly how it could be defeated. That was the only time they explained anything. The rest of the time viewers were just presented with a montage of a few guys putting something together and then James would come on and say "there, three normal guys just put up some shelves!" He'd obviously forgotten that he mentioned in the first episode that one of those normal guys is an experienced carpenter/handyman, so I wasn't really impressed.

There were more than a few things that they did that just left me scratching my head. Like the time he teaches a young man a couple of barre cords on the guitar and shows him how to play a medieval ballad. They go to the apartment of the girl that he fancies and he signs it (very, very badly I might add) outside her window. When she comes out, he runs away. What was the point in that? Was it supposed to be funny? In the last episode the man finally goes on a date with the woman (James and a cohort are in a van giving him instructions over a radio he has concealed in an ear piece) and at the end she admits that she has a boyfriend. Then why is she out on a date with this bloke? I think that was supposed to be the punch line to that season-long story, but it wasn't funny, it was just stupid.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of what occurred in the Man Lab fell into the "why did they put that on TV?" category. Don't get me started on the Celebrity Man Task where a minor celebrity performs a chore and tries to beat their personal best time (as if anyone measures how long it takes them to put together an assembly required' chest of drawers to a hundredth of a second and then keeps track of that time). If you ever wanted to see someone hang wallpaper who doesn't really know how to do it, then this is the show for you.

The DVD:


The stereo audio track was fine for this type of show. Not much use was made of the soundstage and the one explosion wasn't really forceful, but the dialog was easy to discern. There are no subtitles.


The 1.78:1 anamorphic image was very nice. The colors were bright and solid, the lines were tight, and the level of detail was excellent. No complaints there.


There are no extras. With only three episodes, I was expecting something else, but alas this is a bare bones disc.

Final Thoughts:

I didn't really know what to expect going into this show, but what I got was very disappointing. Not only was it uninteresting, it was fairly boring. There wasn't any of the charm and humor of Top Gear, the show that made James May world-famous, to be found in this program. It's a good concept, but it just comes across as a random jumble of clips and none of them are amusing or enlightening. As much as it pains me to say it, give this one a pass.

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