Escapist Television

I think most people who watch much television have those few escapist shows… ones that have absolutely nothing to do with reality but are addictive despite (or more likely because of) that fact. My best example for a long time was pretty much any show written by Aaron Sorkin. The West Wing and especially Sports Night were favorites of mine. The way I put it was that no one talks that way in real life, but it’s such fun to watch. 🙂

My latest escapist TV comes courtesy of BBC America. It’s a British car show called Top Gear. It stars three hosts who basically all play different aspects of the fool. They get to drive some of the most exotic cars on the face of the earth and then snark about them. Jeremy Clarkson, especially, is just notorious for chewing on the upholstery. Honestly, he comes across as a bit of an asshole, but when he’s not making fun of something I care about, he’s fun to watch and listen to. 🙂

Anyway, I’ve started quite looking forward to the show popping up on the TiVo each week. Part of the fun is that they drive not only really brilliant cars but also really insane cars. According to Clarkson on the show, VW got caught a bit flat-footed and ended up with only 8 weeks to build a concept car to show at “GTI-Treffen” (the big annual Golf/GTI convention in Austria) last year. Just to give you a starting place… the GTI is VW’s sporty version of their bottom-end compact front-wheel drive hatchback, the Golf. Several key words there: “compact”, “front-wheel drive”, and “hatchback”. Well, they decided to go for full-out insanity last year. They stole a 12 cylinder dual-turbo 650 horsepower engine from the Bentley Continental GT, shoehorned it where the back seat normally is in a GTI and made it rear-wheel drive. Here’s a hint: the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (the really fast version) has an engine that makes 505 horsepower.

Needless to say, the car was a handful. Here’s what Jeremy said:

Listen to that! In the Bentley that engine is as quiet as a startled deer. Here, it’s like being chased by an imploding star… and about as scary.

Unfortunately, there is a small problem… This car will not go ’round corners.

So, Top Gear top tip: If you want a slow car that looks like a Golf… get a Golf.

Here are a few more choice Clarkson quotes from another episode:

Audis are mainly built for German cement salesmen.

It’s not powered by some V17 quad turbo that gets half a mile per gallon and runs on diced lions.

I am now doing 100 miles per hour, and it sounds like I’m in church… only I’ve got more headroom.

This is like smearing honey into Keira Knightley.

Referring to his co-host, who was driving a Porsche 911:

Ah, Richard Hammond appears to have joined us in his Volkswagen Beetle.

5 replies on “Escapist Television”

Ahhh… You, too, have found Top Gear. 🙂 Just to let you in on a secret, the episodes being broadcast on BBC America are a season behind what’s being shown in England. If you want the latest episodes, go to This will also introduce you to a similar show called Fifth Gear. I’m not as much of fan as Fifth Gear, but Sean still enjoys it.

Oooh. A source for the latest episodes. 🙂

Yeah. I’ve seen Fifth Gear before (though it’s been a long time). As I remember, it’s actually a better show for real car information… meaning it’s less about the hosts (and the hosts making themselves look like idiots) and more about the cars.

With Top Gear, it’s more about the hosts playing their roles. The cars are there less for legitimate information and more to enable each host to play his particular aspect of the fool. Clarkson’s fool is the pompous asshole. May’s fool is the bumbling, methodical, slow variety. Hammond’s fool is harder for me to crystallize in words… I think he often plays the “dumb one”.

I really think it’s a lot like professional wrestling: it’s all scripted, the personalities and story lines are crafted to create drama and comedy. The “challenges” are pretty much just like wrestling matches. I know all of this, but just like any fan of professional wrestling who knows that it’s fake, I just can’t help but be drawn in. 🙂

Actually, I take a little bit of that back. I don’t think it’s all scripted. For example, when “Captain Slow” had that Bugatti Veyron up at >250 MPH, I think those reactions were genuine. In general, it tends to be moments like that… ones where the experience is so extreme that the host can’t help but drop out of character. The best bits I can think of were the ones where they talked to Hammond just after he drove that jet-powered Vampire dragster (right before he crashed it). He was so high on adrenaline that I don’t think there was any acting left.

It didn’t always used to be like this. I remember the nineties Top Gear when the other two weren’t there and Quentin Wilson provided intelligent yet useful quips about the cars. They even used to have women like Sue Barker presenting.

It all seems to have gone so misogynist lately as though men are the only ones who enjoy fast cars with gadgets in them. The whole thing has definitely dumbed down and if I was Clarkson’s boss I’d tell him to stop getting so hung up on nationalism. If another country makes good parts or designs – give them credit and stop lamenting the loss of empire.

If you notice it is less than 50 days until the new season starts up.

Also in other new there is going to be a US based version with different hosts probably called ‘Gear’. So far I have not a whole lot of hope, but I will still watch it. For now I get my current car news over at

Oh, and going back and watching the previous seasons is worth it….

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