When I was first presented with the question in my media class about what show I would like to analyze I needed little time to make up my mind. Top Gear the most watched factual television series in the world with about 350 million viewers in over 200 territories. First premiering on The British Broadcasting Channel BBC, in 1977 the show shared few things of the modern relaunched 2000 version of Top Gear. There was however one underlying similarity, its desire to review and test cars. The relaunched 2000 version presented by its iconic hosts Richard Hammond, James May, and the unspoken front man Jeremy Clarkson, shifted its focus from a more objective “dry” car review program to a more entertaining program while still remaining factual.
The first thing questions I had when I first discovered the show and learned a little about its history, were; How did a show that was canceled get so popular? And how has a show survived for 22 seasons? To find the answers to these questions I first asked myself why I was always watching every episode. What was it about the show that I found so intriguing? As it turned out it was another case of the sum of its parts is not equal to the whole. It was a combination of its narrative, the hosts and their personalities, the cinematography, the sound production, a dash of testosterone, and a whole lot of gasoline.
Next as we next listen to the show we gain a bit of insight as to what more has kept the attention of so many viewers for so long. The way that cars are reviewed is closer to the way one tells a story rather than an objective review full of charts and figures that an average person may care about. The show seems to place things such as speed, “POWER”, and feats of engineering as more important than to give consumer advice to the average person. Also the hosts talk about the way a car feels at times preferring the slower and on paper “worse” car over the statistically better car. The show is more likely to feature the new Ferrari or Bugatti rather than the new Honda Civic. Jeremy’s love for horse power has become so known that he has reached meme status.
Rarely do icons rise alone; Batman & Robin, Bonnie & Clyde, Kirk & Spock, etcetera. What helps Top Gear stand out is that structured around a trio of men with that, for lack of impartiality, have fantastic chemistry for TV. Frequently the three can be seen bickering amongst each other, playing pranks on each other, or poking fun at each other’s character traits. There is a boyish energy between the three of them as they attempt to beat challenges and compete with each other.
The hosts each with their own unique love for what makes a car good to them, make them relatable to any car enthusiast. Whether it’s Jeremy’s love for power or Hammond’s love for brutish “redneck” cars, or James’s love for simple details they present in a manner that feels quite genuine. Years of working together has benefited the show in the way that it doesn’t feel like the program is scripted (even though a fair bit of the show is in fact scripted . James May or as Hammond and Jeremy call him Captain Slow, has been caught saying: “I’ve said many times before the man is a k**b but I quite like him.”
The show has other traces of silliness within it. Another staple element of the show is their tame racing drive The Stig. The Stig is an anonymous humanoid character who drives the cars to their maximum potential. Before the each one of The Stig’s debuted in each episode, one of the hosts will introduce him with some form of joke further reinforcing this idea The Stig is not a human. Speculation of the actual identity of The Stig has flooded many online forums where everyone is generating their own conspiracies and theories about his, her, or perhaps their identity.
The show while it may have its comical moments is no slump when it comes to cinematography and sound editing. Whether it is shots of the world’s first car driven by them to reach the North Pole, the three of them in half broken cars as they climb the Andes, Jeremy driving on the French Riviera in a new Alpha Romeo, Hammond taking a new Nissan across Japan to the Leshan Giant Buddha, or any of the many other places the team has gone, one must commend the camera team for the images they have been known to capture. The show uses many angles in a show taking shots from a lead or follow car, car mounted cameras on the dash, passenger seat, and exterior of the car, helicopter shots, and simple tripod shots flesh out the feeling of actually driving in the car while experiencing the speed.
Even in the car reviews which are mostly conducted on the Top Gear test track which is the airport runway in the back, (the studio being inside the old airport) the editing team can be seen flexing its muscles. Close ups, colored lighting, pan overs, action shots, in conjunction with a soundtrack to create a flavor for each car tested. Tracks from the likes of groups such as: ACDC, The Clash, Skrillex, Pharrell Williams, Arcade Fire, Nine Inch Nails, James Horner, The Pixies, and many more. The show utilizes a myriad of songs to set the mood of each car and even individual sequences. In fact almost every season of Top Gear has used over 200 songs in each season making a favorite for those of us who like to play the game name that tune.
It is all these elements that come together to make a sensory stimulating show for any car lover and also other demographics. Travelistas, music lovers, those who appreciate cinematography, engineering or just something that can give them a good laugh can find something that appeals to them in this show. 350 million people around the world have spoken giving me 350 million reasons why this show deserves a deeper analysis through this semester.