Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Tue 26th Jun, 2012

Not taking the bad with the good

I finally looked my TV recording schedule in the face and decided to delete all my recordings of Top Gear, and remove the schedule so it never records again. Why? Mainly because I realised that I actually hate it.

The main thing I hate is actually Jeremy Clarkson. It took me a while to realise, but it really hit home when I was watching the episode where they race across Japan. Clarkson is shown speeding more or less the entire journey; speed cameras in Japan allegedly require a photo of your face, so he holds up a picture of Bill Oddie. This made me realise what he really is: a bully. He can't stand losing, he cheats outrageously, he then denies it, and he puts everyone else down - even his guests, when he thinks he can get away with it, but mostly his co-hosts. Watching Clarkson for five minutes fills me with a burning desire to find some way of putting him in his place.

And then there's the whole "we're naff" theme. When set any of their usual construction or adventure challenges, they act completely hopelessly. After a while you realise that this is a calculated thing - they're not, actually, really that clumsy, idiotic or clueless, they're actually putting it on as a kind of act. Yes, they've made moronic caricatures of themselves, which they then fit themselves into. This, to me, is not humour; it's infantile. How any Briton can hold their head up and say "Yes, Top Gear really represents the best of British television" is beyond me.

It was in the episode when the three (first season) Top Gear Australia hosts took on the UK team that the two of these congealed unpleasantly together. The first challenge has the UK team driving cars where the pedals are in one car and the steering is in another car welded on top. Only - in a pathetic, tired attempt at humour - the Australian top cars are turned upside down. Ho ho ho, those funny Australians, upside down on the other side of the world, they'd be used to it, ho ho, oh my aching sides.

You can see the three Australians are clearly pissed off at this; they know that they've been handed a teaspoon and asked to shear a sheep, only they can't complain lest they look unsporting. It's the same with the other challenges - each one that Clarkson comes up with is off-beat, and has a twist deliberately designed to give the UK team an advantage. Even when the Australian team organises a fairly straight-up competition at using motorbikes to round up sheep, Clarkson thinks he's been clever by purchasing "Austrian" bikes, rather than "Australian" ones.

Only, yes, that's the "we're naff" side coming through again - as it becomes obvious that not only have they bought really good bikes to ride (KTM), but that the UK team's idea of being able to work together is not merely non-existent, but in some weird negative state: they almost spend more time criticising eachother and 'accidentally' being stupid than doing anything else. And, yes, in another event Hammond and May 'accidentally' give the Australian team more points than the UK team - in fact, enough points to even them up after the previous rounds.

This is pitiful. I don't care about the sportsmanship - which is still atrocious - it's just bad TV. Who wants to watch a soccer game where both teams miss the ball, 'accidentally' hit own goals, make deliberate mistakes and try to trip the other team up? No-one. By the time we get to the last round, where they 'unnoticeably' substitute The Stig for James May driving a rally car, I have ceased to care. Even if the Australians win, it'll be only because the UK team stuffs up in some allegedly humourous fashion. If the UK team wins, it'll be because they cheated. Most likely, I imagine, it was a tie some British TV producer's idea of promoting the two brands without snubbing either. I don't know, the recording cut out before the show finished, and I have as much interest in finding out as I do trying to see if I can crash my motorbike again.

Then there's the clear bias that Clarkson has against any electric vehicle, and in fact any vehicle which isn't somehow a symbol of power, and his willingness to cheat, lie, and outright make up crap about them. Tesla took the BBC to court after trying to get this straightened out for months to no response. In October, the judge in the case decided that "no Top Gear viewer would have reasonably compared the car's performance on the show's airfield track to its likely performance on a public road." Funny, that, because that's exactly what Clarkson is claiming - if he says "the range is 55 miles per charge, not 211", he's not comparing it to 211 miles on the track, is he? If the car had "reduced drive", and not "run out of charge", why did they show the film with them pushing the car back into the shed? The other four claims are still being pursued and I can't find any evidence of a decision yet on them.

At the heart of this is the dichotomy of the show: when criticised, they simply claim that they're "merely entertainment" and not a fact-based show. Funny, that, because they spend an awful lot of time talking about facts: torque, power, top speeds, times around the track, weights, lengths, etc. It fits in perfectly with Clarkson's attitude: I'm going to criticise anything I like, but you can't criticise me because my role is not to be critical. It's morally bankrupt, in my opinion.

Top Gear Australia is bearable, mainly because even when they do get set challenges - doing the Oodnadatta Track mail run in small european cars, for example - they at least give it a go. They come out looking like they've done a good job, not been told to be naff because that's what the public expects. But, no, I've got more interesting, and less personally irritating, things to do than to watch Top Gear.

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