The 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,
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.
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,
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.