Monday, October 10, 2011

Highlights in British history and culture gleaned from watching Top Gear

So Netflix only streams season 2 of the BBC2 car show/chat show/sketch comedy show Top Gear. But I think I'm safe starting in medias res! To be honest, I don't know a boot from a gear box, so about 40% of the time, I have no idea what co-hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May are talking about. But that's a better percentage than I expected. Cars are sort of the backdrop for the hilarious hosts to geek out about not only autos, but pop culture, sports--really whatever comes up. The show has a strong improvisational feel, and it made me laugh out loud repeatedly. What I liked best was the veddy veddy British allusions and references that flew thick and fast throughout the show. It's really not a bad way to brush up on your European sociohistorical matrix. For example,

Quote: "The Smartcar is about as fast as Henry the 8th."
Heh: Henry the 8th, the sixteenth-century British monarch was famously fat. Presumably, he couldn't and the putt-putt Smartcar engine go from "nought to sixty" at about the same rate.

He didn't actually look like Jonathan Rhys Meyers, kids.

Quote: Jeremy Clarkson: "I don't like being ripped off by Germans." Richard Hammond: "It was made in France." JC: "Vichy France."
Heh: Vichy France was the government that collaborated with the Nazis during World War 2. Also, the British and French have a, shall we say, troubled history? As John Cleese put it, "If you've got to fight someone, why not fight the French?" If you want a MUCH longer and less funny extrapolation of this joke, watch The Sorrow and the Pity (don't).

Quote: "A real dog, not a mutant that places third at Crufts."
Heh: The boys were discussing how a new version of some car (part of the 40% I missed) had a trunk rather than a hatchback, therefore making more room for a dog. JC, who preferred the hatchback, insisted you could fit a dog in the space. James May countered by referencing the largest annual dog show in the world, held in Birmingham, England.

The special guest this week was Vinnie Jones, the soccer player, excuse me, footballer, who is famous for two things: being a thrown out of a match after one second of play, and slamming a dude's head in a car door in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He reenacted the latter (with a watermelon and a Smartcar) on the show.

I think it's clear that Top Gear belongs in the Once More with Geekery wheelhouse. Stay tuned for more history lessons, and thanks for the rec, Emile!

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