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Laughter at 70mph

Lighten up. Get a grip. Laugh out loud. We Americans take ourselves soooo seriously. Of course, if we have problems changing our point of perspective, we can always turn to the British for an assist. Currently running on the BBC channel is a hilarious show called Top Gear, which bills itself as “the best in vehicular chaos, fast celebrities, and top gear jackassery.” Around here, it’s known as the show that sends this serious consultant into barely-controllable paroxysms of laughter every time a segment appears.

My most recent chucklefest was generated by a road trip/comparison of U.S. muscle cars Corvette, Cadillac (watch its recent Top Gear review) and Challenger. Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May crossed the pond to take the three cars on an epic road trip from San Francisco to the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah – reputedly the fastest place on earth.

Quite interesting was the initially-presented fact that Top Gear had been unable to secure entrance to the U.S. to film this episode until they promised that the performance comparisons would be presented in a factual, but not entertaining manner. Not entertaining? Have you seen some of the schlock that passes for entertainment on American television? We need “entertaining!”

Apparently, there were some…issues…that arose during Top Gear’s last U.S. visit in 2005 wherein they visited the newest Ferrari showroom, located in Las Vegas. They were extremely entertaining – and highly insulting in a cheeky, British sort of way. Keep in mind that this is a show where middle-aged drivers conduct extreme performance stunts of the kind (either “very brave or very stupid”) you would expect from 16-year-old boys with no fear, fat wallets, a flat field and hi-performance automobiles.

Upon arrival, they introduce the viewer to, well, only two cars. True to its word, GM delivers its top-of-the-line versions of the Caddy and Vette in gorgeous shades of red, resulting in a visual delight for the viewer. But when the guys end up having to buy a Challenger off the floor of a local dealership (for $10,000 above sticker price) after Chrysler withdraws its offer of a free test version, the Brit-style verbal slaps at Chrysler flow freely but, of course, factually. (Shame on you, Chrysler. Bad press!)

Just like a true buddy flick, the three whine, moan, and complain as they attempt to best each other on the road to the salt flats. Occasional roadside pauses to converse (factually?) with highway patrol are interspersed with fluid video from the air of the three vehicles driving through the gorgeous scenery that is our United States. An overnight stop in Las Vegas provides interesting insight into LVPD’s commitment to controlling audio nuisances, smoking tires and the like. All discussed in a factual (not!) manner with the viewer.

The episode ends, not unexpectedly, at the salt flats where the guys work hard to achieve their target speeds at the one-mile marker. They even go so far as to tape the Challenger’s hood seams and air ducts to reduce drag and achieve the target speed. (Is this what Chrysler had in mind when it refused to provide a vehicle because Top Gear always says “bad things” about its products? C’mon Chrysler, go cry somewhere else.)

At the flats, the bantering and mimicry passed around to all in attendance is utterly ridiculous. Heck, this show is a lot less expensive than formal therapy. This is truly cheap attitude adjustment. Perhaps it could be described as, um, entertainment. I laughed until my tissue was unusable.

So, live a little. Loosen up! If you prefer, get serious about having fun. And if you don’t get BBC on your TV, take heart. There’s now a Top Gear channel on YouTube to help you bridge those serious moments with random bits of hilarity. Remember, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. You don’t want to be dull, do you?

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