Tag Archives: Jeremy Clarkson

Top Gear season premiere

top gear trioThe nineteenth season of Top Gear starts tonight on BBC America.  It premiered in the U.K. last Sunday (the 27th).  This will be the first time TG is airing in the US anywhere near the same time it airs in the U.K., so that is exciting.  And, like Ripper Street, BBC America has decided not to condense the program to fit into a 1 hour block of American TV.  If you’re confused–these shows are both 1 hour in the U.K., but because the BBC doesn’t have commercials, the American networks have to decide how to handle this difference when they import the show.  Previously, BBC America generally removed about 12 minutes of programming from TG episodes in order to fit in commercials and make it take a 1-hour block of programming.  I’m not sure if they’ve changed their strategy because of the popularity of TG and of the network as a whole, or because they realize that sticking to strict blocks of programming time is not as important in the age of the DVR.  Either way, TG will be 1 hour 20 minutes on BBC America, same as Ripper Street.

For those of you unfamiliar with TG, despite my many mentions of it on this blog, let me indoctrinate you a bit.  It stars three morons: James May, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Hammond.  James is a pedantic old bore, Jeremy is the most conceited and impatient man in the world, and Hammond is roughly the same as any 10-year-old boy.  Together, they review new cars, discuss trends in motor sports and car culture, engage in challenges (all to do with cars), and there is always a celebrity interview.

If you like cars at all, watching this show is a no brainer.  If you don’t particularly like or care about cars (I’m not exactly a gearhead), there are still plenty of reasons to watch.

The celebrity interviews are unique in that they revolve around the car history of the celebrity in question.  Season 19’s premiere features Damian Lewis (of Homeland fame) sporting his natural British accent.  Each celebrity that comes in goes for a lap in a ‘reasonably priced car’ on the TG test track, and his/her time is compared to the celebrities that have come before.  They get a good mix of the uber-famous (Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz), musicians (Will.i.am, to some more Brit-centric celebs (Nick Frost, Bill Bailey).  It’s just different than your typical crappy Access Hollywood interview, or some shit you would hear on Ryan Seacrest.  So it’s automatically better.

Most importantly, it’s very funny.  I tend to zone out during a lot of the car reviews, although they are written and explained in a way that makes it easy to understand and engaging to anyone with even a slight interest or knowledge of cars.  But the challenges! They are the best thing.  They make me so happy.  Invariably the guys have to each buy a car for X amount of dollars and cross across Y number of dangerous countries/states/deserts/jungles in order to get bragging rights.  It’s hard to explain what makes this so very funny.  The best I can do is offer some funny moments:

If you’ve never watched Top Gear before, give it a try tonight.  Jeremy tries his hand at making the smallest car in the world, then presents it in front of the cast of the Dragon’s Den (the UK equivalent of the Shark Tank).  Also, a word of warning–do NOT mix up this hilarious and witty show with the American version on the History Channel.  That one is …well it is exactly the same, but with all the charm, intellect, and class taken out.  All of it.  Skip that one, unless you really like flannel shirts, pickup trucks, and the like–in which case, what are you doing on this blog?!

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Johnson’s Life of London by Boris Johnson

I tuned into the Today show a few days ago, which is not something I normally do.  Insomnia lately has meant that I am either up at 5 am or don’t sleep all night.  So, in the morning there’s little else on.  Anyway, I happened to catch a few minutes of Matt Lauer interviewing Boris Johnson, newly re-elected Mayor of London and the first conservative I’ve liked since Alex P. Keaton.  In addition to talking about the Diamond Jubilee and the upcoming Olympics, he was plugging his new book, so I went out and bought it the next day.

I’m not sure I knew much about the Mayor when I was living in London, but I have seen him on TV a number of times since.  Most notably, I saw him on Top Gear and he was hilarious. Recommended viewing! I can’t get the video to embed, so here is a link:

boris johnson on top gear

I think he’s probably a favorite with the Top Gear trio because a-his background is in journalism, including automotive journalism,  b- he’s quite funny and can definitely hold his own in a conversation, and c- he’s got ridiculous hair.

Or maybe Clarkson, et al. are not particularly interested in his hair, but I like that he doesn’t look like everyone else.  He also rides a bike to work every day, has a lovely self-deprecating sense of humor, and it’s obvious how much he cares about London. He doesn’t have a (or I have never seen him display it) cynicism about London that a lot of people from the UK fall victim to.

So, when I heard him talking about this book, which is basically a list of his picks for the most influential people in the history of the greatest city in the world, I knew I would enjoy it.

He has picked 18 individuals who have had the biggest influence on the future of London.  Some of them are quite obscure.  I took a whole class on pre-Norman Conquest England, read all of Bede’s works, but I don’t even remember Boudica.  Some are more well known, like the obvious Winston Churchill.  Some are surprising picks–Keith Richards over Mick Jagger?  What’s interesting and worthwhile about the book is not who he has chosen, or even why, but how he has described their connection to the city and its place on the world’s stage.

He also includes four or five little snippets about important inventions and features in London history, such as the King James Bible, the flush toilet, the bicycle, and the tube.

Johnson also has a distinct point of view when it comes to describing the city–he is the one responsible for running it.  As such, he places particular attention and importance on people and things that have improved the city infrastructure.  The tube, the railways, the docks, the bridges.  He starts with a discussion of London Bridge, and it is clear through numerous examples that a lot of what has allowed the city to grow and improve, or wane and falter, has been down to these tangible features.  Much of the post-WWII decline could be set down to the destruction of docks and homes during the Blitz. The improvement in living conditions, population growth, and life expectancy that came at the end of the Victorian era can be attributed largely to the sewer systems built during the late 19th century, allowing for clean and hygienic living in a crowded area.  Of course these things seem obvious once they’re stated, but I’ve taken multiple English/British history courses and never had anyone point out how directly and completely these physical features affect the city.

The other main point Johnson makes is one that most people know, but it is very true: London is a city with two cities and tons of villages.  The main tensions and changes throughout the centuries have occurred because of the relationship between Westminster and ‘the City’.  One is the home of politics, the other the home of banking and commerce.  Such was true 1000 years ago, and is still true today.  Perhaps more so today.  Much of the changes that came to define London were due to merchants putting pressure on the crown and Parliament, and that tension meant that no one got too much of an upper hand.  Unlike places like France, where the wealth and power was dominated by only the elite, in London there grew a (comparatively) reasonably large merchant class.  As the aristocracy is often lacking funds to continue their lavish lifestyle, they often come to rely on the bankers and financiers for the money to finance their lives and their wars.  This meant a give and take of power that you wouldn’t find in lots of other countries on the continent.  This tension actually led to increased government stability, and the city grew as a result.

I think the growth of the city is how Johnson chiefly measures the success of the changes he is discussing.  He explains that many of the chief geniuses of the history of London were spurred on by competition.  Shakespeare was competing with tons of other playwrights, like Marlowe and Ben Jonson.  Keith Richards was competing with Mick Jagger inside the group, and they were all competing with the Beatles.  Turner was competing with other painters like John Constable.  The competition of brilliant men (and women) with others is what leads to an explosion of talent and genius.  And that competition is only possible, or for most of history it has only been possible, with geographic proximity.

I really enjoyed this book.  I don’t read tons of non-fiction, but this was interesting and written in a very easy and readable manner.  I really enjoy Johnson’s writing, and his history as a journalist is obvious. He writes well, he is funny, he is not taking any of it too seriously, which allows you to take him a lot more seriously.

A note of warning though.  I consider myself to have a pretty damn good vocabulary, more so since I have been studying for the GRE and memorizing flashcards full of vocabulary.  This man, however, put me to shame.  I had to look up, on average 3-4 words per chapter.  I mean, I may pat myself on the back for knowing the words denouement, apogee, and bellicose without the help of Webster, but I was flummoxed by coelenterate, impecunious, and contumacious.  Have a dictionary or web-searching device handy.

Richard Hammond’s Crash Course

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.

Every episode has at least one moment where Hammond is giggling and grinning–usually this is just after a minivan gets destroyed.

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.

Coming Soon

I thought I would take a day to look at what’s coming out of the UK and hitting our shores in the next few months. Warning though, this post is restricted in some ways to what appeals to me as an anglophile.  So, for example, if Big Brother UK is going to be on here, I probably won’t talk about it, because I don’t honestly care..

Films:

The Deep Blue Sea starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston (aka Loki from Thor).  Not to be confused with the Samuel L. Jackson movie of the same name.

This trailer isn’t anything spectacular, but the cast is.  According to Wikipedia, it is from a play by Terence Rattigan, about the wife of a judge who falls for a pilot in the RAF. Intriguing, could be good. Lots of good quotes on the trailer, but no telling if that translates to an actually good film. But it has been out since November in the UK, and currently has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, so I’m guessing it’s going to be fairly good. It comes out in limited release here March 30th.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Could there possibly be a more boring title? I can’t think of one. But, then you look at the cast: Ewan McGregor (doing his native Scot accent for once), Emily Blunt, and Kristin Scott Thomas. And I’m in.

Seriously, though the subject of salmon fishing in the Middle East could not be of less interest to me for many reasons, this looks like a really good heart-warming sort of film that I love.  This one is coming out quite soon; limited release this coming weekend! I am definitely looking forward to this film.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

This is it! I don’t think there’s any movie that I’m more looking forward to this year.  Can you believe the cast? Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey, HP), Bill Nighy (HP, Underworld, Love Actually), Judi Dench (every period drama ever, the new Bond movies), Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), Penelope Wilson (Downton Abbey, Dr. Who), and Tom Wilkinson (tons of stuff, most recently Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol).  Seriously though, when the US does a movie with this many superstars, it is some absolute trash like Valentine’s Day or He’s Just Not That Into You.  But this is going to be brilliant, because not only are they quite famous in England, but they are famous for being actually good actors. Cannot wait for this movie! But I will have to, as it doesn’t come out until May 4th.

Books:

Some titles I’m looking forward to in the coming months include:

Britain, etc.–A nonfiction, light, trivia-based jaunt through Britain from A-Z.  Hopefully I’ll learn something and be entertained at the same time.

The English Monster–It’s historical fiction, it’s a murder mystery, it’s based on a true story.  Set in the early Regency period, based on some real murders. Difficult to think of dreadful murders going on at the same time Jane Austen was penning her lovely novels.  I have decided lately to get more into crime fiction and this may be one of my first forays into that oeuvre.

And of course, the unnamed J.K. Rowling book will be at the top of my reading list, no matter what it is about or when it comes out.  That’s just how it is.

TV:

Life’s Too Short: I’m watching this right now on HBO. It’s a lovely and ridiculous comedy starring Warwick Davis (Willow, HP films, etc.) as a warped and foul version of himself. It’s yet another Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant project, and expect a full review once the series is done. It’s brilliant.

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Whitechapel: This one is a modern police procedural starting with a Jack the Ripper copycat.   I am starting to be rather obsessed with Jack the Ripper! This was actually on BBC America last fall, but I missed it with the holiday rush. So I’m going to try to watch it now.

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Top Gear!: Anyone that doesn’t know about this show has my pity.  Ok, I should preface this by saying that cars are not of much interest to me.  I started watching this show with my bf because he loves cars and I love England, so it was a good fit.  But it is hilarious, one of the most popular shows in the UK, and lots of fun even if you’re not a ‘petrolhead’ as they call it. Season 18 starts in April. Also, do not confuse this with the American version, which has more cars and less class.

Here is a best of montage to wet your appetite: