Tag Archives: richard hammond’s crash course

Richard Hammond’s Crash Course – Season 2

Richard Hammond's Crash CourseThe second season of Richard Hammond’s Crash Course aired this fall on BBC America.  They seem to have abandoned all attempts to have Richard drive as many crazy and weird vehicles as possible (the main theme of season one)…presumably because there are none left.  Last season, he was trained to operate an Abrams tank, a tree harvesters (the Lorax would lose his shit if he saw one of these), trash-handling equipment in a landfill, a fire engine, and equipment utilized in demolition and salvage operations.  Mostly, he learned to converse with the barely literate rednecks they found to train him.

This year the focus was less on vehicles, and I think the show is better for it. Of course, Hammond is famous for Top Gear, and in America it is the only thing we know about him.  But he is not exclusively a car guy, and in the UK he has multiple shows.  He’s a TV personality more than a car guy, so it doesn’t make sense to keep him tied to this imaginary identity.

This season saw him tackle what were described as ‘American professions’, though I  imagine these professions make up less than 1% of American workers.  Watching people file or return emails is pretty dull, so they’ve picked the more interesting jobs.  We see him tackle jobs as a stuntman, cab driver, standup comedian,

Hammond does comedy

bullfighter (actually, rodeo clown), paddle boarder, Indy pit crew member, a barber in a Harlem barber shop, a cattle rancher, snake wrangler, exotic animal keeper, bike messenger, and we see him build and then test a helicopter.

This is such a monumental list of stuff, very little of which draws upon his acknowledged skills with vehicles. There is little in his past that would help him deal with rattlesnakes or work as a stuntman.  We see him do really well in a few of the challenges–he takes up the animal tasks very quickly, but we also see him falter in some of the other tasks.  He doesn’t finish his paddle boarding race, and he manages to make negative $ as a cabbie in NYC.

The first season seemed to give the Hamster lots of time to play with the industrial machines he was manning, and he spent most of the time goofing off, even as he was learning.  It’s obvious this season was far more emotionally and physically grueling for him. But at the same time, many of the tasks (cattle rancher, bullfighter, snake wrangler) tap into his romantic notions of the American West.  What is it about the Brits and their love of cowboys and a good Western? Why is Dallas more popular in the UK than in the US?  Maybe it is because there isn’t an equivalent experience to have in the UK, and their affection for it is just curiosity for a different sort of life. A wilder life.  At any rate, Hammond has got it bad. He never looks more thrilled than when he’s told to put on a cowboy hat or some chaps.

Hammond with a gun

I enjoyed this season more than the last, I think.  Certainly, I wasn’t embarrassed by it.  A lot of the people they found for season one were (I fear) the exact stereotype people have in their minds when they think of Americans.  I don’t particularly enjoy watching those stereotypes be confirmed, nor does it make for great television when your chatty host can’t actually have a discussion with the people accompanying them.  This season, they found some people who could at least form complete sentences on camera.  Some of them were actually quite interesting, and I learned a bit about a few of the professions. I learned more than I thought I would ever know about Harlem Barber Shops and their hair-cutting competitions. The Stuntman episode (the first of the season) was particularly interesting. They took Richard through all of the typical stunt scenes–jumping from a tall building/bridge, a fight scene, being lit on fire,

Hammond on fire

and (of course) a car chase.

No word yet on if there will be a third season.  I can only imagine what they’ll make poor Hammond do if there is. I suspect he’ll be shot out of a cannon.

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TV Show Review: BBC America’s gritty crime drama, Copper

I debated whether to review this show or not.  I went back and forth.  It’s on BBC America, so…that almost automatically qualifies it to be on the blog, right?  On the other hand, it takes place entirely in America with zero British characters.  Well that’s a problem.

The actors are a mixed group.  The lead, Tom Weston-Jones is British, as is Anastasia Griffith.  Other actors were Canadian, Ghanian, Irish, plus whatever Franka Potente is, besides adorable.  German, isn’t she?  So none of that is much good, although it all has a very United Colors of Benetton feel to it.  The show creators are not British.  It’s shot in Canada.

So perhaps it doesn’t fit on this blog, but I’m going to review it anyway because it is on BBC America, and it gives me a chance to talk about the channel and how they seem to be shifting.  This show is entirely American, and other shows seem to be more catered to Americans lately.  Another example is Richard Hammond’s Crash Course, created specifically for an American audience, it didn’t air in the UK until months after it aired here.

Copper is BBC America’s first original scripted show.  I can see why Copper makes a good fit for exploration into scripted shows for BBC America.  It’s a period drama, which is what the BBC does better than anyone else.  It’s not, however, a Jane Austen miniseries.  It has a lot more violence and is much more masculine than most of the period dramas you find on BBC proper.  It makes Downton Abbey look about as masculine as a pink tutu.  So they can tap into some of the BBC America demographic that tunes in for Top Gear and Bond marathons. The show is very adult with lots of violence and some weird sexual stuff (10-year-old prostitute/sex slave, for example).  BBC does that as well. I’m still scarred from some of the stuff in Luther.

I’m glad BBC America is moving into original programming, but I don’t know why they feel that all of that programming has to be US-centric.  Surely, we’re tuning in because we like the U.K., right?  I feel a little let down that they think we won’t watch unless it takes place in America.

But enough rambling.  Is the show any good?

Well…I’m not confident enough to say it was great, or to highly recommend it.

The combination of sets and CGI scenes makes a very convincing 19th-century New York, and that’s perhaps the most interesting part of the show. It very realistically recreates a time and a place and makes those lives seem real an accessible.  I’m not an expert on 19th-century New York, so I can’t tell how accurate the sets, costumes, etc. are, but the people and the place feels real.  Harlem is desolate farmland, and ‘Five Points’ is a slum occupying what is now the general area of City Hall and Chinatown.  Central Park is inhabited by sheep only, from what we see. Seeing these places as they were is surreal, but sort of wonderful.

The actors are good, particularly Tom Weston-Jones as the main character, Kevin Corcoran.  His story is the most compelling, but not the most tragic we encounter.  He has returned from fighting for the Yankees in the Civil War, to find that his wife is missing and his daughter has been murdered.  He asks every day if anyone has seen his wife or a locket she prized.  He is on the hunt for answers.

Like Luther, House, and many other lone wolf heroes, Corcoran is a moral man who will go to any lengths to accomplish his tasks–including doing some fairly immoral things.  It’s a pretty wild time, and we see fairly quickly that (at least for Corky), being a pacifist or less willing to force his way through barriers, just wouldn’t get it done in his world. He’s got no problem with violence, when he thinks it’s justified, and I found it hard to empathize with him for this fact.

Most of the wealthy characters are apathetic at best and terrible at worst.  The audience isn’t given much to care about with their characters.  The only possible exception is Robert Morehouse, a soldier with Corky in the war, who makes a fairly impressive journey from drunken heir to honorable man by the end of the season.

Many of the poorer characters are more evil and more compelling all around.  There’s Eva (Franka Potente), the street-smart brothel runner, Annie, the 10-year-old Lolita, and Francis, the most Irish of Irish cops, who is harboring more than a few secrets. Dr. Freeman is a particularly likable black doctor who has just moved with his agoraphobic wife to Harlem, but consults on Corky’s cases in a forensic capacity.

So there are compelling characters (though you shouldn’t go in expecting to truly like any of them) and great work done with costumes and sets.  I think that the writing is what holds back this show from being more enjoyable.  There are plenty of twists and reversals of fortune, mysteries and conflicts, but for some reason I wasn’t emotionally invested in much of what happened.  I’m not skilled enough at dissecting shows to pinpoint exactly why, but I think it has to do with the dialogue.  I found that often during this show I would want to do something else while I watched, from playing solitaire on my phone to checking emails.  It didn’t keep me riveted enough to sit and watch. The dialogue exists in a sort of no-man’s-land between modern utilitarian speech and the more fancified 19th-century variety. It lacks the poetry and artistry of true period speech, which can be used to create an incredible emotional tension (based entirely on what isn’t said) and it isn’t quite as compelling as modern speech.  It just isn’t good enough.

I would only recommend this show to people who are particularly interested in the period or who really loved the film Gangs of New York.  I may tune in for the second season (I haven’t decided yet), but it’s not a must.  I will say, however, that anyone who is a facial hair aficionado must watch this show.  It’s got it all.  Corky is always sporting an aggressive five o’clock shadow, but there are also full beards,

something I’ll call mustache chops,

and, my favorite, the Martin Van Buren:

Copper has already been picked up for a second season, so tune in next year for your follicle fix.

Upcoming British TV

You may have noticed, if you’re one of the 3 people who regularly read this blog, that content about British TV has been lacking lately.  That’s natural, given that it is summer and there isn’t much of anything new on.  But fall is approaching fast and there are a lot of good shows coming back, and a lot of new shows that look awesome.  So here’s a primer on what to expect over the coming months on TV.

Doctor Who premiered last Saturday, and another episode was just on last night.  I have grown to really love 11, though I still prefer 10 and probably always will consider him the best Doctor ever.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, skip this bit as you are not a Whovian and won’t particularly care.

I have to say that these last two episodes have seemed rather lackluster to me.  There were some plot holes in the Asylum of the Daleks, and I saw the twist coming fairly early on.  Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was a bit better, and I love Mr. Weasley as Rory’s dad.  Something just seems off with both episodes so far, and I can’t tell if it’s the show or it’s me.  I suspect, however, that it is not me.  They’ve jumped right in as though there’s been no gap, and I could have done with a bit of a slow submersion.  I do love Karen Gillan, though, and she has been awesome as always.  I think it’s the writing or the direction to blame, but I”m having trouble putting my finger on why or how.  It’s almost like the episodes start too quickly and keep going too quickly for you to be emotionally invested.  And then they’re over, and you still aren’t particularly invested.  It’s missing some of the emotional scenes that you find in other episodes, and so far there hasn’t been anything particularly scary.  A bunch of rusty old Daleks and Filch? After the weeping angels, it takes a lot to scare me anymore, but they’re not even trying!

So why is this on my list of what to look forward to this fall? Because it’s Doctor Who! I will continue to watch it, and hopefully it will get better.

Downton Abbey

There are two trailers out right now for the third season. This one:


And this one (which I prefer):


Maggie Smith is divine.  And Shirley MacLaine as the American grandmother? Wonderful. I cannot wait to see those two in action together.

Okay so here is the big problem with Downton Abbey, and I cannot believe that in the 21st century it has come down to this.  On ITV in the UK, it premieres this month. Next week, I believe.  When will it be on PBS? January.

January?! This is ridiculous.  Why cant the studios just get together and decide to air it at the same time? Or shortly after?  As far as I know, there is no legal way for Americans to get their hands on the show before it airs on PBS or comes out on DVD (which might happen first, to be honest).  I would honestly pay to watch it, but I don’t think there is a way to do so.  Whose idea was that? I realize that ITV can’t broadcast here, and they are a British only channel, but this is ridiculous.  I suppose now I know how it feels for Brits who want to watch the latest episodes of our shows. But honestly, there should be a way to get it through iTunes or something. I am honestly not going to wait until January. I refuse.

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And a similar thing is happening with Parade’s End.

This was actually a joint venture between BBC and HBO, which means they have equal rights to air it (in my non-expert legal opinion).  This aired during August in the UK (I only know about it because I caught the last 20 minutes of one of the episodes while I was in London).  HBO hasn’t even announced an air date for the US.  BLARGH. Why do they do this to me?

In case you haven’t heard of it either, let me describe.  This was originally four novels by Ford Maddox Ford, and has been adapted into this mini-series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall.  The plot revolves around a wealthy couple, and it is set in the early 20th century, so there are naturally comparisons with Downton Abbey. The husband is sent off to fight in the trenches in WWI.  There’s a love triangle somewhere in there. I didn’t want to read much else because I don’t want to spoil the fun of actually watching it.  If that ever happens.

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So, will anything actually be on soon for us unlucky Americans?  Yes! Thank god.

   Judging by the press photos, this one is about women who ride around on bikes in matching outfits.  Okay, actually, it’s titled Call the Midwife and I am quite excited about it, despite being horrified by the idea of childbirth and by the presence of nuns.

The show centers around a group of midwives in 1950s Britain, and it was a huge hit there. Smashed all sorts of ratings records.  It even beat Downton Abbey in the ratings. So, I’m definitely going to give it a try.  It airs on PBS, starting September 30th.

Richard Hammond’s Crash Course is also returning this fall (October 15th).  It appears they have abandoned the need to associate him with vehicles, and the show has devolved into him simply encountering as many ridiculous and possibly embarrassing Americans as possible.  There is, thought, a really cute trailer.

Another one coming down the pipeline this fall:

Spies of Warsaw

This is another period piece, a WWII-era drama set in Poland (obviously). It stars David Tennant, and that’s about all I had to know before I decided to watch it.  No firm release date yet, that I can find. I believe it comes on when The Hour and other Dramaville programming returns, which would be November, I think.

So it’s set to be another year of British cultural imports.  I do want to add, however, that as much as I joke about being forced to wait for a long time to watch British shows, I am just joking. Of course I hate the waiting, and I don’t see a need for it when we’re perfectly capable of downloading everything anyway.  But as I learned on my trip to London last month, the TV in England is really terrible.  What? What am I saying?! This is a blog about British TV, among other things, so how could I be committing such blasphemy?  I never had a TV when I lived in London, so I had little experience with it.  At my hotel, though, we did have a TV. I didn’t sit down to watch it at any point, but before bed or in the morning I would switch it on, and I was shocked by what I found.  There are only 10-20 channels, and some of them are only available at certain times of the day.  They play a lot of American programming, from old episodes of sitcoms (Frasier of all things) to really terrible American movies that wouldn’t even be shown here (Bowfinger…really?).  Then there seems to be some sort of 24-hour Big Brother channel.  Mix that in with Coronation Street and East Enders, which seem to be less slick and less attractive versions of our soaps, and that’s about all of your choices. Of course, there’s always BBC news, right?  They do news incredibly well there. But, you soon realize that it runs on a 10- or 15-minute loop, especially in the morning.  It’s not fun. If I lived there, I don’t think I’d bother having a TV at all.  So when I complain about having to wait for these mini-series, I do not mean to imply that I would rather switch places with them. They have to wait a long time for our shows as well, and well, we just have a lot more options here. Plus, no TV tax here, always a bonus. So, take the complaining with a grain of salt, and everyone let’s try to be patient, and pretend we aren’t illegally downloading these things. We certainly wouldn’t do that.

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 to BBC America: Crash Course with Richard Hammond

The new season of Top Gear starts in mid-April, and BBC America recently released a trailer for Richard Hammond’s new show which will premiere just after Top Gear. It’s called Richard Hammond’s Crash Course, and it actually takes place in America. Here’s the trailer:

I can’t say the premise is my idea of great television, but it is Richard Hammond and he is by far my favorite member of the Top Gear trio.  And all of the Top Gear personalities are most enjoyable when they make idiots of themselves, and I can’t imagine there will be a single episode where Hammond doesn’t humiliate himself to some degree.  The premise of the show is that he has 3 days to learn how to drive each of a list of ridiculous vehicles. The two featured in the trailer (that I noticed) are a tank and a fire truck.

It occurs to me now that this show, the new season of Top Gear, AND the Julian Fellowes Titanic Miniseries all start the weekend of April 15th, which is also my birthday! That should be a fairly busy weekend for me and anyone who is an anglophile.