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.