Top Gear is like the UK version of Myth Busters. It’s got curious males, their tricked-out rides and that familiar “What if?” premise of reckless hypothetical query.
Except the guys on Top Gear aren’t out to bust old wives’ tales.
They conjure up “X-type of car vs. Y” sort of formulas, where “Y” can be anything from a swimming pool to parkour to an army tank. Past experiments include “Can a car survive the thrust of a Boeing 747’s engines?” and “Is it possible to ski on a public road behind a Jaguar?” The point, of course, besides poking fun at producers for actually footing the bill, is testing cars in absurd scenarios that challenge notable characteristics of that particular vehicle.
The co-hosts are British and snarky, if that says anything about the humor. Droopy-faced Jeremy Clarkson, the sprightly Richard Hammond and shaggy-haired James May are the motorhead Three Stooges of the 21 st century, set loose on a playground of theoretical quandary.
Top Gear’s been around since 1977, was re-launched in 2002 and maintains an internationally popular cult status. But it’s one of those goofy English shows that can elude you until someone says, “Hey, watch this, it’s rad,” or you accidentally discover it while channel surfing.
The high-energy sequences are narrated in a Monty Python-esque sashay of tea-party banter, mischievously sprinkled with the occasional F-bomb. It’s all cut and cured with deliciously dry wit, smart editing and priceless moments of silent, deadpan glances.
“This is a canoe, or kayak, to be precise, and it’s rubbish, because it doesn’t have an engine,” says Hammond in an episode filmed in Iceland, where he races a TVR-engined Tomcat against a man in a jet-powered kayak.
In “Polar Challenge,” Clarkson and May drive a modified Toyota Hilux all the way to the geographical coordinates of the magnetic North Pole — against Hammond, who putters his way there via dogsled.
“Clarkson! I know it’s you, you insufferable oaf! I’m on the bloody throne!” yells May from the seat of a makeshift toilet, specially constructed for the Arctic quest on the tailgate of the Hilux. Clarkson continues to drive, anyway.
Seriously, other car shows look stuffy next to this. Purportedly slated for sometime this summer, Season 15 is shrouded in mystery. But until then, you’ve got 14 previous seasons to devour.
Finally! Season 3 is sliced and served on May 31. Thank goodness for Budy Valastro, big-daddy "Cake Boss" of New Jersey's renowned Carlo's bakery. If it weren't for his larger-than-life, boisterous, blunt, Italian persona, Kate Gosselin's wearisome huffiness might have sucked all the fun out of TLC. (Mondays, 9 pm, TLC)
Simon Baker's more than a suave blond guy who seduced Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada. He's a suave blond guy starring in his own show. And it's good — if you can get past the "charming loose-cannon CBI investigator whose unmethodical tactics puzzle his co-workers but get a pass since he's really good at clearing cases" cliche. (Thursdays, 10 pm, CBS)
The National Geographic Channel's Explorer headlines bizarre stuff like "Child Mummy Sacrifice," "Aryan Brotherhood," or "Mystery of the Disembodied Feet." "Marijuana Nation" airs on May 25, with reporter Lisa Ling giving viewers an exclusive inside glimpse at homegrown pot jungles and the most delicious THC cookies you've ever laid eyes on. (Tuesdays, 9 pm, National Geographic)