The media’s been talking about it for months. We’ve all heard it. The Top Gear Patagonia Special, and its infamous ending. Jeremy Clarkson’s registration plate H982 FKL was alleged to have caused offence during their trip through Argentina to the point that an angry mob ambushed the production crew, forcing them to flee the country. The Argentinian Ambassador demanded an apology from the BBC, the mainstream newspapers took their chosen sides in the debate, and the presenters denied any attempt at causing offence.
Tonight, the episode aired – Patagonia Special, Part Two. For the first time, the crew became involved with the show’s narrative – while Clarkson, Hammond and May fled back to the UK, the team on the ground were left to fend for themselves, through a barrage of rocks and missiles in a police escort. Three cars were abandoned. The show ended with a constructed scene, inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; having spent the night in the San Vicente Canton house where Robert Parker fought and was allegedly killed, the Top Gear Team returned, before emerging from the barn to the sounds of gunfire over a sepia freezeframe of their escape attempt. And that’s what gets my goat.
Top Gear began as a motoring show. It was factual, and reviewed cars, with practical challenges to test the different factors a driver may judge. But this episode was the last straw for me, because it’s really the last, desperate attempt at entertainment. And it’s what made me realise: that’s what’s been lacking from the show for a long time.
Episode one involved a review of the Citroen Berlingo Multispace, a race between the Pagani Zonda and Lamborghini Murcielago, a review of the Mazda6, a speed camera efficiency test, and a Star in a Reasonably Priced Car – a pretty good format still running, last time they had Aaron Paul.
The latest episode, one-hundred-and-sixty-seven was the fourth consecutive episode in-which the presenters travelled through an ambitious location, with excuses to be slapstick and not at all relevant to the show’s premise. This time, they were travelling through the Patagonia region of South America. Certain “jokes” involved Clarkson and Hammond giving May a pet toy horse after May fell off a horse and cracked three ribs. Horses aren’t cars. May named the horse “Brokeback”, referring to a previous incident in-which Clarkson named Hammond Brokeback after a cowboy hat he was wearing. Most of the other jokes also involved references to previous episodes. Hammond arrived back at camp with a dead cow tied to his roof, as Clarkson did in episode seventy-seven, US Special. In the same episode, each decorated the other cars’ with provocative language, eg: “Hillary for President”. This time, Hammond and May collaborated on some less-than-amusing decorations for Clarkson’s offending Porsche 928, the anti-funny only amplified by Hammond’s cartoonish hooter. They were big in the seventies, now they’re just annoying. But it’s not that. Hammond also attached the 928’s rear brake light to the dashboard and Clarkson declared he’d break “every bone in their groins”. Just how he warned May that decorating Hammond’s bike would make him “apocalyptically cross”. But it’s not just that. They also built a bridge across a river, in the same manner as their infamous Burma Special, in-which they built a bridge that gathered controversy over Clarkson describing the “slope on it” as a Burmese man crossed. In this episode, Clarkson asked if the bridge was “straight”, prompting an immediate “Yes!” from Hammond to avoid any more (condemned) accusations of homophobia… Incidentally, Clarkson began his question with “It’s a proud moment, but…”, the same way he began describing the former bridge.
What Top Gear is doing is now doing is self-cannibalism. Humour is a finite resource, and Top Gear‘s finally run-out. And rather than actually being infocational, it’s deciding to reuse parts and just hope nobody notices. Well I have. You can’t just decide to continue a show for the sake of it, powered by its own momentum now the fuel tank’s empty. There needs to be a real reason for making the show, for sending three buffoons out to a controversial location for the sake of being controversial. You can’t expect your audience to be happy just by reminding them how the show used to be. In fact, this episode, if anything, has made me realise that maybe it just wasn’t very interesting in the first place…
The final scene, shot in cinemascope, with high contrast and dark tones, was the final shot of the episode. It was knowingly fake, and did so as an homage to the movie. But the final assault showed the thirty-one strong camera crew involved in production of the show. The show maintains the pretence that there are few of them in the wilderness, with scare staff, who mustn’t interfere. But the revelation of how big the operation is just goes to show that Top Gear isn’t genuine. It’s a literal vehicle for the presenters. The show’s no longer about the cars, it’s about the three idiots trying to be even stupider than last time. It’s getting to the point where it’s just insulting to my intelligence.
Any show that insults my intelligence shouldn’t be on television. Unfortunately, the Series 9 finale had BBC Two’s highest ratings in a decade, and Autoblog reveals the waiting list for studio recording tickets were enough to record twenty-one years’ worth of further episodes. And the show’s topped DVD charts, as well as generating enviable YouTube views from BBC Worldwide. So I guess it’s going to be with us for a while.
But if I’m the only person who actually cares about the quality of BBC programming, then FINE.