Seasons 11 & 12
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Will Harris
here’s no better way to kick off this review than by traveling back in time to my last “Top Gear” review, which found me experiencing the venerable British series for the very first time. “I’m not a car guy and I don’t get any thrill out of racing,” I acknowledged, “but I was moving from episode to episode without a moment’s hesitation. ‘Top Gear’ is top-notch television, entertaining even to those who have no interest in the subject at hand.” Given that sort of enthusiasm, you can well imagine that I was first in line when the opportunity to tackle the next set of the series came about.
In what one can only presume is an attempt to capitalize on the U.S. success of the series, BBC Home Video has decided to play a bit of catch-up, simultaneously releasing Seasons 11 and 12 onto DVD. Though it may strike the uninitiated as a move which might prove overwhelming to the wallets of the show’s fans, keep in mind that, amongst TV viewers in the United States, there are few individuals more dedicated than the Anglophiles who frequent BBC America – and that’s not even taking into consideration the obsessive nature of the gearheads who drool over the vehicles driven by “Top Gear” hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May.
And, no, we haven’t forgotten The Stig. He’s a driver, not a host, you silly git.
Inevitably, the gearheads will find themselves most drawn to the reviews portion of the programs, in which the guys take the latest and greatest vehicles and take them for a test drive to see how they hold up on the show’s track, first by them, then by The Stig. Fortunately, the commentaries by Clarkson, Hammond, and May always manage to make these segments entertaining enough to keep the semi-enthusiasts tuned in ‘til the challenges begin.
Highlights of Season 11 include a competition to determine the best vehicle to serve as a police car and a Cheap Car Challenge amongst Alfa Romeos, but it’s the races that produce the best bang for your viewing buck, such as when the guys try to beat a bullet train, a couple of skiers, and – boo! hiss! – a bunch of Germans. In the must-be-seen-to-be-believed category, however, be sure to check out Daihatsu Terios fox-hunting challenge. In Season 12, there’s a muscle-car road trip through America, a race between a powerboat and a Ferrari Daytona – Portofino, and my personal favorite, a contest to determine the best lorry in Britain. (That’s a tractor trailer to you and me.) There’s also a special episode where the guys travel from one end of Vietnam to the other, but while it’s as entertaining as any of the “Top Gear” travels, it’s not up to the standards set by the Botswana special from Season 10.
The Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment continues to be a lot of fun, with Season 11 offering pairings of celebrities for a bit of variety. You’ll note that the individuals participating in the segment on these two volumes don’t have nearly as much name recognition in the States as on the Season 10 set, but there are still a few familiar faces here, including Tom Jones, Mark Wahlberg, James Corden and Rob Brydon from “Gavin and Stacey,” and, uh, that bloke from Jamiroquai. Okay, fair enough, they’re extremely British this go-round, including London mayor Boris Johnson, comedians Alan Carr, Justin Lee Collins, and Harry Enfield, and UK TV stalwart Michael Parkinson, but it’s still a blast to see semi-ordinary people tackling the “Top Gear” track and letting their enthusiasm come roaring out.
Although these may be two individual releases, let’s be honest: if you like the show, then you’ll still want to buy both Season 11 and 12, as there’s no intrinsic difference between the two seasons when you consider them based solely on the program itself. Each still offers you a heaping helping of news, reviews, races, challenges, and most importantly, a great deal of fun.
Special Features: Rather shockingly, the Season 11 set doesn’t contain a single bit of bonus material. Not a sausage. For whatever reason, the producers have instead decided to place their sole focus on the Season 12 set, offering up commentary on the Vietnam special from executive producer Andy Wilman and crew, deleted scenes, a photo gallery, an extended interview with Boris Johnson, and an extended version of the Top Gear Awards. A more surprising addition, however, is a director’s cut of the Botswana special from Season 10, which has also been tricked out with commentary from the aforementioned Mr. Wilman. It’s a strange inclusion, but given that the excursion through Botswana is highly entertaining, it’s certainly worth watching again.