Monday, 6 September 2010

Is Top Gear past it's sell by date and other unmentionable thoughts?

As television watcher and reviewer, I take very seriously the prospect that a production company is watering down the product or not doing all it can to entertain me. Conversely, if it's not broken divn't fix it.

Top Gear, a programme I've been watching, it seems like for ever, is it possible it's gone soft in the middle and lost touch with it's audience? Is it possible the Guardian and a few other Top Gear haters are right? I only ask as that I myself found myself getting weepy at the sight of vintage British sports cars on one of the eps of the last series. Top Gear sells itself as a car enthusiast's magazine. From such a show I expect to be informed, educated and entertained. If I'm honest I'll admit that sometimes it verges on the sentimental and soppy when they revisit the classic cars, but are they out of date? I don't think so.  I can honestly say that the presenters reflect the interests and cares of the average  modern BBC viewer. Through all the silliness that keeps me coming back for more, it seems enough car news and automotive knowledge seeps in that I can carry on an intelligent conversation about the latest trends and features in motoring.

And lets talk about the silliness. Jezza and his uncensored tongue, are we really that sensitive that we need to read the most base and unpleasant motives into his every utterance? He is what he is, a bufoon, an opinionated man who says what he thinks and talks of what he sees. He is not a hate monger or a wind up artist, why should he pretend things he's seen haven't happened? The worst reaction I've had to his jokes is to not have laughed at a few of them. He means no harm and he incites no one to violence, if you don't include views on motor-homes and their owners. Jezza, Capt'n Slow and the Hamster are every knot of 8 year old boys in men's bodies. We like what we like, we think farts are funny and we call a spade a spade. I don't think it's a crime to be funny and informative or to go miles out one's way to make a point. To quote the lunatics at Myth Busters... "If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing". If the critics want a dry dull documentary style auto show like you can find on any other network they should be watching those, I however want to be amused and kept wondering what happens next.

So the new series is in filming at the minute and we'll be getting a new Stig. Seems the old one was hoping to make a few quid after hiding in a white suit for 7 years. Ben Collins who replaced Perry McCarthy when he got rumbled, was on the point of being rumbled himself. I suppose it's only natural that these things happen. I hope the next Stig is better at keeping his mouth shut and his eyes covered. Which of course begs the question... what colour will the new Stig be? Will he still be white? Will the new reasonably priced car perform as well with the new Stig? Will we kill a few more Morris Marinas with pianos? Will there be more crazy road races? Who knows, but I'll bet the answer is yes to the last 2 questions, why change what works, we expect certain things and if it still works, Top Gear should not stop doing them. At it's core, Top Gear does what it's supposed to do well. The whole fastest production car record was gripping and worthy of any serious news story about auto-mobiles. While I don't expect Jeremy Paxman to drop frogs down Mishal Hussien's blouse, the serious people could learn a thing or two from the hyperbole of Top Gear presenters. The road trips in Bolivia, The North Pole and Vietnam to name only a few were as good as or better than some BBC4 travel programmes.

My other un mentionable thought is even worse than the first.... Is it possible that the RTD years of Doctor Who were .... how to say this ... too slick?

I ask this as I have been re-watching early Who from the start and have also begun re-watching Ashes to Ashes. I cannot however bring myself to watch much of the new Doctor Who after Ecclestone. It's not that they weren't good. On the contrary, despite my criticism of Russell T Davies and his decision to isolate the Doctor by making him the last of his kind, the eps were gripping first class drama. They squeezed out tears fears and exposed the raw nerves and bizarre paranoia that lurks in all of us. No the eps in question, with  several Tenant exceptions, are lacking  the kind of individual scenes that taken separate and apart  could serve as humorous interludes, small slices of Doctor life that inform more on the character than just the current story line.  Re-watching the old Whos and the Gene Hunts, I found myself looking forward to many specific scenes and was mouthing dialogue as if it was HHGTTG, Torchwood or a Python sketch. Perhaps my core criticism is that RTD took Doctor WHO too seriously. He turned it into Spooks in Space and Time for a while.

Moffat by contrast, in choosing to craft a Doctor more related to the Throughton era, has written or had his writers create scripts that are increasingly manic at times and have from the beginning allowed a longer peek inside the world of our favourite Time Lord. While he still scares socks off our feet, he hasn't edited it so close to the bone that we don't get the intimate moments you used to get when Tom Baker had the luxury of 5 or six eps to sort out a story. Another thing, Moffat (or RTD before him) hasn't gone bananas with the special effects over the merits of the written word as acted by actors and actresses. Despite a mammoth budget compared to say Sarah Jane Adventures, Doctor Who is careful not to dazzle you with too much sizzle at the expense of substance. When Matt Smith talks to Auton Rory, he does so in a manner you could enjoy if it had been in any other story. It's one of many bits I want to see again. I suppose what I'm saying is that I want the shmaltz and the humour and the personal stuff like we used to get before it was boiled down to one hour, one story.

A propos of nothing, next time you watch a show on telly, pretend the cast is on a near empty sound stage,  then picture a painted back ground, if the acting and the writing still holds up even with the barren set, you know you've got something special. 

A great format about to change is that of Master Chef UK. I like the current format, I know the Australian version is massive and breaks records. But I've seen the format in the US version. It's got weeping contestants telling sob stories to get in the starting 20. I don't want to see three weeks of preliminary frying of eggs mixed with tear jerker stories of just how much this will mean to them if they win. For me it's always been about the cookery. I stopped watching X factor and BGT for the same reasons. The success of Master Chef UK so far has centred on the notion that the cooking is the star, the ingredients are the supporting cast and the contestants are aware they are only there as long as the cooking is up to par.  I don't care if the contestant is a single mum or a struggling artist, for me it's down to one Greg Wallace says,  "But can he cook?". The perceived need by production companies to inject pathos is incomprehensible, what's wrong with just talent?

Till next time ....So long and thanks for all the fish.

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