Monday, 15 November 2010

James May's Man Lab: Drink tea & sort things out

In the last outing for BBC2's James May's Man Lab, Captain Slow pulls all the threads together to finish up this 3 part series who's professed aim is to save us men from our own mediocrity. I was a little frustrated watching as two things put me out of sorts, one was this was the last of the series (for now at least) and that I was forced to choose between Man Lab and Garrow's Law over on BBC1. Seems 9:00 pm is the new prime time, if the powers that be at the BBC had stopped think about it, the people most likely to watch James May are also the people most likely to watch Garrow's law ( review here soon ). As it is, I ended up watching the latter on the iPlayer, but only after I'd watched MOTD2. It's not everyday when your derby enemies beat up on Chelsea 3-0, there was no way I was missing that highlight package. Even I was happy for the SMBs, I suppose it doesn't hurt once a year or so, so long as I don't make a habit of it.

Being consistent, James May was as surrealistic and poetic as ever, quoting Thomas Moore, Henry the 5th and Thomas Hardy. No matter what he touched, it was tinged with a layer reminding of an age when men were genteel and took honour seriously. A man's word should be his bond but he should also be able to have a quick turn of phrase even while appearing to be for all intents and purposes, a 9 year old boy setting off fireworks to lift the spirits of a mate. Let it never be said that Man Lab does not have a deeply embedded sense of humour that keeps even the most depressing event from getting it down. Which brings us to the first of many treats on offer in this last episode in the current series. Seems our friend Tom the director is turning 45. So to the the tune of Bowie's Major Tom, we learn of the two basic types of firework... Stars and sparks! We also learn the various components needed to make the two effects but are wisely NOT told how to assemble the rockets. Moving on to the fun bit, May then embarks on an exhaustive series of test fires insured to research the best fireworks, of which there are hundreds we're told, in aid of selecting which to use for the birthday boy.

Taking a break for the man task, Outnumbered and Mock the Week comedian Hugh Dennis tries to beat his best wallpaper time of 42 minutes 46 sec.. ( incidentally the same time all the other times were), but fails his man task only getting half the wall done. Somewhat better than last week, it still was not as good as the rest of the programme.

Having alerted air traffic control and asked for a firing time, set the explosives in position , including the mobile picnic table, Man Lab hopes and prays the two stage rocket they had built, fires for the massive finale so anticipated. The result is as oddly pleasing as the two stage rocket is a bit of a dud. Rather than climb high in the sky, the thing rises a bit and then turns back right over the firing area, spraying sparks and fire on an unsuspecting lawn and scaring an innocent deer who had happened to wander nearby. Good thing it was James May and not Clarkson, else the tidal wave of 10 letters to ofcom would have been surely off at super offended speed.  What the blast lacked in wow factor that oozed from the Top Gear Space shuttle disaster, still reckoned to be the greatest ever explosion on telly, it made up for in laughs.

Not content with blowing some things up for the joy of others, May organises Operation Romeo. Having discovered that the lovely Casandra has been impressed with the cubist ( two noses) etching of her made by Charlie of episode one, and agreed to go to lunch with him.The full range of kit and personnel are assembled to insure that not only Charles impresses, but gets a 2nd date. Parked in the date van, May and a cohort are armed with poetry, an ear piece and have the bistro wired for sound and video. It all goes as well as you would expect, even extracting a 2nd lunch after a particularly excruciating poetry reading dictated by earpiece. Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz would be proud of them all. Based on the above experience, there are a few important conclusions that will help all males out to impress.

1- Be a listener not a talker
2- Show interest in her
3- Don't ask her age
4- And most important ... FIND OUT IF SHE HAS A BOYFRIEND FIRST.

Well that was a complete waste of time, but not to worry, in a segment bound to please the complicated male fun cortex, we go to war against the flying pest that is  the blue bottle. Keeping in mind the British spirit of fair play, May unleashes the Anoracus Nerdica , or toy helicopter armed with camera and fly paper to engage in combat and capture offending flies. In this sporting tussle, only one fly gets stuck and the rest remain free to lay eggs and be annoying, but, honour is satisfied .

Speaking of honour, remember last week when they duelled with pistols and asked us to write in? Seems two old mates have been selected to settle a 25 year petty dispute that's been allowed to stain the reputations of the friends. Each claims the other is a coward or a liar. This week the duellists elect to use sabres and take to the disused warehouse of  honour. After much Brontesque flowery speech, the combatants engage in ferocious battle that results in Max breaking his mate's blood bags first and delivering the killing blow. Personal orgueil or pride having been restored, the victor and the seconds are urged to leave before the constables arrive.  If you are involved in a petty dispute, drop James may a line at  Mark your subject line "I demand satisfaction".

Falling deeper into insanity, Man Lab then takes the Anoracus Nerdica2 outside and aims squarely at the greatest enemy of mankind since Ghenghis khan came out of the East! Yes the evil wasp, ruination of every picnic, lunch and quiet read in the park you've ever been to. James sets a clever trap of jam sandwiches and arms the the copter with air to wasp missiles ( left over fireworks from the birthday party). No fair play here, total war is waged as the unsuspecting wasps are attacked by several waves of remote controlled launched rockets. Final score?  One wasp dead at the cost of a table cloth and all the sandwiches.

The Lovely Gemma
Lest some of you accuse James May of being addicted to senseless violence and mayhem, proof is offered of the artistic side of the man in the final two segments. In the first, Fit lass Gemma helps James May make a public information film..."The plumber comes". If the critics assembled in the purpose built Man Lab Odeon are to be believed, it's Citizen Kane and Jaws all rolled into one. I suspect they may have been paid off, as the film more resembled an ok 70's porn film. I had a Doctor Who moment when John Pertwee was shown presenting his classic Green cross code ,May's inspiration, sadly it was wasted as my wife was about to tell me an equally fascinating Pertwee fact. The stand out moment in the segment had to be the conversation May has with himself over a pint in the Man Lab bar. Bemoaning the fact that all English cinema  is either northern brass bands hating Thatcher or silly posh men falling in love, he pulls himself a pint and talks to himself. Not since Doctor Who (Throughton in the Enemy of the World) decided to save money and did the evil twin thing, has a single actor shared the screen with himself so well on the BBC.

May and company then soothe the savage beast with the sound of music. But before St-Martin in the fields can be the scene of sort of beautiful music, May has to confess to the sin of having neglected his own conducting skills and  is forced to practice that most manly of skills, swallowing his pride and asking a previously rejected trumpet player to join the orchestra if only for three notes. After much faffing about, putting on James May shirts and extrication of foreign object from an instrument, we hear the Man Lab medley capped with the stirring patriotic sound of God Save the Queen. Perhaps out of  genuine appreciation or just the joy of them finishing , the orchestra gets a standing ovation for their efforts. Closing the segment and the episode with an epic Churchillian speech, May urges us to live up to the manly ideals and never forget the manly arts handed down to us from our fathers and grandfathers.

We are left with the promise of more next year and even that poor man in France might yet be rescued. Judging by the reception of the series and the traffic I been getting for Man Lab, the BBC would be silly not to commission a new series of this odd, slightly melancholy mixture of comedy and call to arms.

Catch up the series here or visit the Man Lab main page


CrypticSue said...

Oh woe, time expired on iPlayer before I returned to watch the Grade One Man Lab Orchestra in concert. Man Lab is easily my Best Watch of the Week for the last three weeks, and I'm delighted to hear there may be more to come.

You have amazed and amused all my family: the jaded parents, the electronics-obsessed son and even our animal-lover daughter (possibly thanks to the sea-faring non-navigating dog). Poetry, construction, explosives, useful information on duelling, bombs and how to keep the toilet roll stock up to date, all combined with a healthy diet of bananas, jam sandwiches and fine ale - thank you for a great series! S McPhail, South Queensferry

NowVertical said...

You may be interested to know that Orpheus (Ian Renshaw) from the grade one orchestra has released a single (thankfully not playing violin).

To listen to the tracks and watch the video go to

The video was mainly shot in Ian's pub with help from all the regulars...I think it is worth a watch.

Anonymous said...

Although adrift across the Atlantic and armed solely with purloined interwebery, we call upon Man Lab and the BBC to once again raise arms against male degeneration for countless seasons to come. Thou shalt not end until all rubbered spines are returned masculine and upright.

Daniel said...

Hi there been loving James Mays Man's Lab any chance of more episodies as would love to find put what happend to James Mays wine conesor friend and how the man lab got on is it finshed yet ?? Would love a pint !! Any ways really would like to see more of James Mays ideas and tricks !!

Anonymous said...

But the crucial question that I am sure I am not alone in asking is... "Who is the lovely Gemma?"