I’m a bit torn about this show. Let me start by saying that Richard Hammond is, by far, my favorite of the Top Gear trio. And I think he is the most palatable for an American audience. James is too boring and pretentious, Jeremy is too arrogant and offensive. Richard is the best looking, the nicest, and has a sort of boyish enthusiasm that makes him more tolerable than the other two. So I really expected to like this show. The trailer was great, and I expected a show that was a lot like the challenges on Top Gear. The point of the show is that Hammond spends each episode learning different ‘work vehicles’, like cranes, demolition machines, tree harvesters, etc. He has 3 days to learn each of the vehicles on a site, and then he has a final exam.
The show started really strong with the Hamster (that’s his nickname) attempting to master the M1A2 Abrams tank.
This was actually my favorite episode of the series. Hammond has to undergo a series of slight humiliations, including an Army workout, and his cohorts at the Army training facilities are not quite as monosyllabic as some of his later ‘coworkers’. He also starts the tradition, continued in every episode, of destroying a minivan (or several) with whatever equipment he is learning to operate.
There is a quote in a New York Times article about the show, “This is a show that brings out the 8-year-old boys in men. And the show works best when Richard lets that out”, and I couldn’t agree more. My favorite part of every episode was when Hammond got the I’m-going-to-see-a-fire-truck look on his face.
Unfortunately a lot of the episodes are quite repetitive. He introduces the machines, learns how to operate them from people who speak in various ridiculous accents, destroys minivans, and then either passes or fails his final exam. I enjoyed parts of every episode, but overall the format is too monotonous to be truly enjoyable. I’m sure that in learning to operate a tree harvester versus a crane, there are a lot of differences between controls, concepts, etc. But, cinematography wise, the visuals are almost exactly the same.
The best parts of the series involve him trying to form a bond with very blue-collar Americans. Hammond is so personable and so friendly, but I think he has to overcome a prejudice a lot of Americans have when it comes to the British. They hear a British accent and picture Oxford educated men in bowler hats, all of whom live in castles or manor homes and have inherited family fortunes and titles. Of course the reality is that there are just as many working class Brits as there are working class Americans, but they aren’t usually the ones that end up on our TV or movies. In this show Hammond is trying to interact with people that I (and a lot of Americans) would find a hard time talking to, so there’s a lot of inherent drama in that situation. Picture Dirty Jobs, if they replaced Mike Rowe with Hugh Grant.
There’s also some tension innate to a situation where an outsider attempts to come in and learn how to do your job in three days time, when these guys (and a few women) have been doing these jobs for years, and it took them years to master these machines in some cases. If they do a second season of the show, I hope that they spend more time on those human interactions.
All in all, it was an interesting show, though the best episodes were the first three in my opinion. And, as much as I prefer Hammond to James and Jeremy, I really think the dynamic of the three of them together is necessary for a truly great show.