If you read what I’d written the other day about my automotive history, you might expect that I’d be a fan of Britain’s highest-profile motoring programme, Top Gear. Well, in fact, I can’t bear to watch it. The primary reason is the overpowering odour of smug that pervades the entire enterprise. Every moment of the show, you can just tell that the presenters are thinking “We’re so cool.” When, in reality, they are three of the least cool people on television. It’s incongruous, but not incongruous enough to be entertainingly surreal.
I’ve been recovering from the pig flu over the past few days and not feeling fit for anything other than couch surfing, so I have watched an unhealthy amount of daytime television. There’s a lot of Top Gear on (seems like four or five episodes a day) and on a couple of occasions, I’ve been clicking through the channels and from the hairstyles and clothes thought “Oh, it’s an old Top Gear. Must be from, oh, I guess, the mid-eighties?” But, no, they’re only showing relatively recent ones.
And everything they do is so futile and stupid. “I’m going to see if I can drive this Aston Martin from Leeds to Edinburgh in less time than it takes The Stig to build a flat-pack wardrobe!” (I made that one up, but if it was real it would be among the less unreasonable ones.) Oh yes, and you have to get the intonation right. Or rather, totally wrong. The only way to get that sentence to sound really like Jeremy Clarkson is to speak it while randomly raising and lowering the pitch of your voice.
When the original Top Gear was cancelled in 2001, several of the redundant presenters went to Channel 5, where they were the core crew of a new motoring programme, cheekily titled Fifth Gear, which was essentially the same old Top Gear format. No celebrity chats, no pointless competitions, better wardrobe. With that programme having some success, the BBC decided to relaunch Top Gear, but changed the traditional format, to bring in some of the more progressive elements of modern television, such as chat shows and “I’m someone you may have vaguely heard of, get me out of here”.
I’m not a huge fan of Fifth Gear, but I can get along with it OK. They test-drive cars, they race them, they investigate issues like safety and economy. But, you know, really I’d rather be doing it than hearing about it. Like life.