Top Gear 11 & 12 Coming To DVD in January

Although “Top Gear” has been floating around the British airwaves in one form or another since the 1970s, I must admit that my knowledge of the series didn’t kick into overdrive (automotive pun utterly intended) until earlier this year, when “Top Gear 10” of the series was released on DVD here in the States. I realize I’m highly late to the game, since not only is it one of the top rated shows on BBC America and BBC Canada, but it’s aired in more than 100 countries, thereby officially making it an international phenomenon. In my defense, I figured, “This is absolutely not a show that I would care about,” but even though I’m someone who could care less about the car he drives, a fact evidenced by my ownership of a 2000 Hyundai Elantra with well over 100K miles on it, I quickly fell in love with “Top Gear,” describing it as “a show about cars that isn’t strictly aimed toward those who think of themselves as ‘car people.'”

“(‘Top Gear’) approaches the whole fast-cars-are-awesome concept without taking it too seriously, which is often the problem with American coverage of NASCAR and whatnot. Hosts Jeremy Clarkson (a staple on the show since its original inception), Richard Hammond, and James May go out on various tracks and test-drive new vehicles – occasionally aided by the mysterious test driver known only as The Stig – and that’s all fine and well, but it’s when they venture forth into the real world that things really begin to take off. Sometimes it’s a challenge, other times it’s a race, but you don’t have to be a car enthusiast to find yourself enthralled by the concept of making a truck into a seafaring vehicle and attempting to cross the English Channel. It’s ridiculous, but they take it completely seriously, and with their very real reactions to the situations combined with some wonderfully dramatic music, you can’t take your eyes off the proceedings.”

Given my obvious enjoyment of “Top Gear: The Complete Season 10,” you can imagine my excitement when I was made privy to the news that the subsequent two seasons of the series will be heading to stores in the early part of next year, helping to kick off 2010 with a bang.

The news comes to us straight from BBC Worldwide’s publicity offices that both “Top Gear 11” and “Top Gear 12” will be speeding to retail…sorry, that was their joke, not mine…on January 12, 2010. Messrs. Clarkson, Hammond, and May tackle fresh challenges, push extraordinary and ordinary cars to the limit, and fill every episode of these two seasons with exhaustive road tests featuring some of the world’s most exotic supercars. In short, if you’ve got the money to actually buy any of these vehicles, you’ll be able to watch the show and find out if you’ll be getting your money’s worth.

In “Top Gear 11,” the new batch of cars includes the Mitsubishi Evo X, Brooklands Bentley Super Coupé and Mazda’s Furai concept car, and the crew invents a new sport: fox-hunting Jeremy-hunting with a Daihatsu Terios 4×4. Additionally, they race across Japan in a Nissan GTR in a competition against public transport, then dare to beat their German rivals in a series of grueling automotive tests.

When “Top Gear 12” kicks off, it’s with a crash, a bang and an overwhelming smell of burning…but, then, what scent would you expect when the guys are behind the wheels of a trio of second-hand trucks? They also visit our fine country – feel free to pause and chant, “USA! USA! USA!” – and take three big-engine ‘muscle’ cars on an epic road trip from San Francisco to Utah. Other escapes during the course of the season include explorations of the Fiat 500 Abarth, Porsche 911 and Pagani Zonda F Roadster, but if you’ve come for the celebrity guests, you won’t come up short there, either; Mark Wahlberg, Sir Tom Jones, and British talk show legend Michael Parkinson all stop by to chat after they’ve buckled up and done their time as a “Star in the Reasonably Priced Car.” On the special-feature front, there’s audio commentary on the guys’ Vietnam special (where the boys attempt to travel the entire length of the country in just eight days) and Botswana specials, deleted scenes, photo galleries, and the highly nonspecific claim of “more.”

“Top Gear 11” and “Top Gear 12” race into stores…again, not my joke…on January 12, 2010 for the suggested retail price of $29.98 and $39.98, respectively, but in the meantime, you can pick them up on iTunes. (You certainly wouldn’t be the first person to do so: Seasons 10 and 11 both debuted at #1 for “Top TV Season” on iTunes Store in the U.S.). You can also keep yourself occupied by exploring the show’s new site for U.S. and Canadian fans, TopGear.com, which features a Top Gear America blog, exclusive video clips, and contributions from Jeremy, Richard, James and executive producer Andy Wilman.

I’ll close things here the same way I closed my Season 10 review: with an assurance to those of you who, like myself, aren’t car people. Personally, I don’t get any thrill out of racing, but I was moving from episode to episode of “Top Gear” without a moment’s hesitation. It’s top-notch television, entertaining even to those who have no interest in the subject at hand. That’s impressive stuff, and I have no doubt that Seasons 11 and 12 offer more of the same.

  

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A Chat with Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey, and Lenora Crichlow of “Being Human”

One of the most consistent pleasures of the TCA Press Tour for an Anglophile such as myself is the opportunity to get the scoop on the latest UK imports to arrive on BBC America. In 2007, I was introduced to “Jekyll” and “Torchwood,” and in 2008, I very quickly fell in love with “Gavin and Stacey” and “Primeval.” This time around, the picks to click were “The InBetweeners” and “Being Human,” and although I’ll be waiting a bit to offer up my conversation with the folks from the former, I’m running a bit late in posting my chat with the cast of the latter. “Being Human” actually made its BBC America debut when I was still in Pasadena, but now that I’m playing catch-up, I wanted to share with you the lovely courtyard conversation that I had with the show’s trio of stars: Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey, and Lenora Crichlow.

Join us now as we embark upon…

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TCA Tour, Day 2: “The InBetweeners”

If your name is Will, you wear glasses, and you occasionally had a rough time of it in high school when it came to fitting in, then you will likely find that it’s quite easy to enjoy the new BBC America sitcom, “The InBetweeners.”

Actually, I guess that’s a pretty tiny demographic, so let’s try this: if the idea of an amalgam of “Freaks and Geeks” and “American Pie” delivered in a British accent fills you with joy, then, boy, do Iain Morris and Damon Beesley have a show for you.

Their best-known American credits…okay, fair enough, it’s really their only one…are as the writers of a couple of “Flight of the Conchords” episodes, but with “The InBetweeners,” they’ve put together a raunchy look at teenage life that, at least based on the episodes I’ve seen, is a bit like “Skins” without all the depressing bits…which is to say that the teenagers here are committing the sort of debauchery that you’d like to think that your own teenagers wouldn’t indulge in, even if you’re pretty sure they do, anyway.

“It’s not in any way, I think, really heavy,” said Joe Thomas, who plays Simon on the show. “I suppose it’s heavy in the sense that it’s sort of about inadequacy and expectations not being met and teenager years being sort of perpetually disappointing to a degree you wouldn’t even have thought possible given the last disappointment. But ‘Skins’ has, like, death in it and big themes, whereas we have…”

At this, Morris interrupted his star. “The best example is probably that, in the first series, you might see Joe’s naked bottom. In the second, you’ll see his penis in a wet sock. That’s how we moved it on. That’s how we’ve tried to develop the show and try and just get those themes going through. Of humiliating Joe Thomas.”

“Yeah,” confirmed Thomas, “that’s one of the themes.”

Regarding comparisons to the work of Judd Apatow, Morris is more than happy to consider his work part of the tradition of comedy humiliation. “It’s those things like ‘American Pie’ and ‘Animal House’ and ‘Swingers’ and things that were sort of character stays of men in a way that had humorous content. And in one of the episodes, the last episode, there’s a sort of homage to ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ by which I mean a joke we stole wholeheartedly. Do mention it to Judd if you see him.”

Now, there’s one thing for Americans to keep in mind (as if we’d ever forget): our television standards are more stringent than those of the Brits. This necessitates certain changes in various episodes that air on BBC America, and you can bet that “The InBetweeners” is a series which will require a bit of tweaking.

“We actually do bleep certain words,” said Garth Ancier, President of BBC Worldwide America, then backpedaled slightly and clarified, “We don’t bleep them. We do audio deletes, which is actually a different way of dealing with it. But we do do audio deletes on certain words that start with ‘F,’ and we do pixilate occasional nudity and things like that. Look, we have to live within the U.S. system. These are shows that are airing on free over-the-air television in the UK on E4 and Channel 4, but the U.S. audience is a little tamer, and so we have to calibrate where it should be, and we do. We do it with ‘Skins,’ too.”

“Sounds like bad news for Joe Thomas bottom fans,” said Morris.

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TCA Tour, Day 2: “Being Human”

Be honest: if someone told you about a new TV series about a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost who share an apartment, wouldn’t you think it was a cartoon? Or, at best, a wacky tweener sitcom, a la “The Munsters”? Given that I grew up on such Saturday morning series as “Drac Pak” and “The Monster Squad,” I could actually get behind either of those things, but “Being Human,” the new TV series in question, is actually an hour-long drama, one which made its Stateside premiere on BBC America on July 25th.

I could hear a lot of you suddenly exhaling with relief after reading where the show was airing, and it’s understandable. The concept sounds positively ridiculous, but there’s something about the knowledge that it’s airing on BBC America that lends credibility to even the most ludicrous of premises, simply because you know they’re going to treat it seriously. You might not know how, but you know they will. And, of course, it adds immeasurably to the show’s credibility to know that it was created by Toby Whithouse, who’s written for “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood.”

Still, it’s comforting to know that the cast of “Being Human” – Russell Tovey (the werewolf), Aidan Turner (the vampire), and Lenora Crichlow (the ghost) – were equally uncertain when they were pitched the idea of the series.

“We’ve been asked the question quite a bit about how we felt when we first heard it,” said Crichlow, “and even when I explain now to people what the show is about, I see them…”

“Glaze over,” chimed in Tovey.

“To be honest with you, it’s in the scripts and in the characters,” Crichlow continued. “I mean, it just works. But it’s almost the most ridiculous idea in the world. I remember getting the call, and I didn’t know if it was comedy or drama or what the hell it was. But I was two or three pages in, and, ‘Oh, wow, I get it now.’ It’s the fact that these guys want to be human, that it’s steeped in this realism, and that makes it work so well. It’s a credit to Toby. He just made it very easy for us. This was a job that you couldn’t say ‘no’ to. First on, we knew it was something quite special and different and, dare I say, even kind of original in some ways.”

“Yeah, it’s an actor’s show,” agreed Tovey. “The characters go through so many emotions, and there’s so much you can do. I mean, I’m screaming one minute and naked the next minute. I’m crying. I’m laughing. Naked again, screaming again. It’s just such an amazing writing and a great concept and exactly what you want to do as an actor in your mid-20s.

“Oddly enough, I think we’re playing real people in this as opposed to playing supernatural,” said Turner. “That’s why it’s so interesting for us to play a vampire, to play a werewolf, and not the sort of typical way, if there is one, which wouldn’t be as interesting as playing these real characters with real afflictions and real problems and real issues. It’s just so much fun.”

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Torchwood – Children of Earth (and a new companion for the Doctor!)

It’s been two days of steady announcements for fans of both “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood.” Yesterday came the news that instead of Sci Fi airing the latest episodes of “Who,” BBC America would instead be premiering the final five David Tennant adventures beginning in June with “The Next Doctor,” and then July will see the premiere of “Planet of the Dead.” Granted, it’s a shame that BBC America isn’t in as many homes as Sci Fi, but isn’t BBCA really the proper place for the Doctor?

This morning the BBC issued a press release naming the newest companion to travel with the Time Lord. Her name is Karen Gillan, and she’s Scottish and all of 21 years old. She’ll be time travelling with new Doctor Matt Smith when Season Five gets under way in 2010.

Incoming head honcho Steven Moffat had this to say about Gillan: “We saw some amazing actresses for this part, but when Karen came through the door the game was up. Funny, and clever, and gorgeous, and sexy. Or Scottish, which is the quick way of saying it. A generation of little girls will want to be her. And a generation of little boys will want them to be her too.”

And last, but certainly not least, the latest trailer – clocking in at just over 2 minutes – for “Torchwood: Children of Earth” has been unveiled. It’s still so difficult to tell anything about this miniseries. Will it rock, or will it just roll? Will the ante be upped, or will it flail around on the ground? Chances are this thing’s going to be a solid five hours of entertainment, based simply on the quality of the first two seasons, and yet the whole “kid” thing seems like a huge gamble for this series. Fingers crossed! Take a gander for yourself:

  

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