Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Australian Top Gear: Revving High in Third!

I am a great fan of Top Gear. I get the British Shows well before they air here and also have a growing collection of the older British shows. I buy car magazines and read them cover to cover, Holden to Ford. I could explain to you in layman's terms how an internal combustion engine works and the various methods improving its output. I have my own opinions about cars and the automotive industry, but I appreciate British Top Gear for the extremely high level of production that goes into an iconic piece of entertainment.

I was apprehensive and even doubtful about the first franchised version of Top Gear. It could have been low-rent, stupid, colonial and natural as a peddle-powered Commodore.
It wasn't.
It was like a seventeen-year-old all dressed and ready for their first school formal. Amateur, awkward and slightly embarrassed to be there in the first place, but at the same time, excited, cocky and beautiful with hope, youth and vitality. This kid is going to break some hearts. Not a lot of them. Not too many outside its peer group, but it'll definitely do what it set out to, in the end.

There are many reasons to believe that Australian Top Gear will succeed. They are:

Charlie Cox: He is the least embarrassed and the most natural in front of the studio audience and also in the trademark sparring with his co-presenters.

The production looks nice and slick: Top Gear is basically a series of ultra-flashy music/porn videos featuring cars in place of synchronised dancing and whatever they show in porn videos. Quick pans, high definition video tricks, Bruckheimeresque soundtracks, lingering gazes at metallic hides and freeze-frame action shots of power-sliding engineering. The Australian film crews and editors have been paying very good attention to what works and why.

The cars are promising: The metal shown in the advertising campaign (Ford vs Holden battle, a nightmarishly black Ford GT, the intriguing mining truck vs ute race) are right into the eye-candy flash and dash that Top Gear audiences expect. All these are unique ideas in a field already well-plowed by Messrs Clarkson, May and Hammond.

They will get better: Yes, they were nervous. It showed. They were inexperienced. It also showed. The lack of bricks sliding down the presenters' trouser legs and onto the studio floor was thus commendable. BUT none of it seemed ingrained. These aren't nervous guys trying to appear enigmatic for the camera, these are obviously enigmatic guys trying to shake their nerves for the camera and doing a very commendable job. They will get better. Then the reasons they were chosen above 4000 other applicants and then from a short-list for their in-person chemistry and camaraderie will begin to shine through.

However, are there, of course, inherent problems with exporting the format to Australia with the straight copy-and-paste option taken by Freehand.

Fun And Interesting Cars Are Really Really Expensive: There is no way around it. The starring cars of most of the British Top Gears are almost all beyond the reach of most of Top Gear's viewing demographic in Australia. When old British motoring journo Jeremy Clarkson tells you that he simply loves Mercedes' new CLK 63
AMG Black then that's quite fine because you know that he could probably buy one because he's an international mega-star who changes exotic supercars about once a year.
He probably writes them off on tax.
That's the fun bit about the show. You sort of get to buy it with him, in your mind. He's driving it, you're sitting next to him, he's telling you what fun it is and you believe him. You do it together.
But when Charlie Cox whips the cover off the new Lambourghini LP-560 and tells you that it's $550,000, your first reaction as an Australian brought up under tall poppy syndrome with the housing bubble bursting all over your face is to heave a besser block through its carefully raked windscreen.

On the British show, the quoted prices are in meaningless pounds (this also has the illusory effect felt by every Australian backpacker ever to visit London: "Everything is so cheap! But wait a minute ... times by three ... add tax ... bugger. We have to leave") and
the cars are often so rare that the cost flashes by in a cloud of tyre-smoke and carbon fibre.
On the Australian show, the price they quote you is the price that you immediately understand in your head as being a number which cuffs this piece of escapism firmly within the television set with only bread, water and a Hyundai broschure. You're not sitting next to Jeremy Clarkson spinning the wheels in his new Lambo, nor are you reclining on the vintage leather of Richard Hammond's Charger. You're sitting in the pub with three complete strangers who you are quite willing to let be your mates because you are going to drive cars together, if only they wouldn't keep dropping prices into the conversation which you only hear mentioned in terms soapy, floating houses and the entire yearly salaries of striking surgeons.

Top Gear is a review show that turned into an action movie: Australian Top Gear has to pick up where the action movie left off, sliding gingerly into the back seat of the flaming Ferrari as it leaps over the Grand Canyon to escape the Taliban. And, like the passenger in the flaming Ferrari, there's not really a lot to add. Unless they are really really creative. Maybe some gun fire and a call to the Prime Minister?
Top Gear has the luxury of the review platform to base its pieces upon - its presenters are seasoned motoring journalists and are given ample opportunity (by a well-funded research department) to display this knowledge. Australian Top Gear's presenters all have media
backgrounds and experience and it is claimed that they all have their motoring chops, but there has been (so far) little chance to show those off.

The hot cars have to be thrashed: The new Porsche 911 was driven sedately, the Maybach had its headphones shown off and the Lambo went nowhere at all. One suspects that those holding the keys to the comparably-tiny fleet of super expensive cars in Australia are not thrilled by the prospect of smart-arsed TV presenters tearing up their tyres and defecating on their insurance ratings.
(*To see what I mean either watch the entire video until the end, or just pause and let it load until 6:15 and then start watching. To see what I mean about price, click here and scroll to the very bottom ...)

My other criticisms are mostly niggly, fan-boy things that have either been satisfied by British Top Gear or may just yet appear on the show (GT-R in a passing hotlap? No Holden or Ford on the track? Ahh ... next time, Gadget, next time).

Australian Top Gear has started well with the mold it was provided with. Now it needs to smash that mold and set about adding a few modifications of its own.


  1. Oh MY GOD!!! CAR PORN!!!!

    The second BEST porn available on comercial TV; right behind any of Nigella Lawson's fine work.

    Although it does disturb me that they are shooting her less and less from the side these days...

  2. Had you seen before? A great place to start porning it up with your fancy highspeed SE Asian internet...

    And Nigella ... well ... I always think that I'd find the whole thing more alluring if she wasn't just finding new ways to cook with more butter, sugar and cream and a bit more melted butter and lashings of fucking everything ...

  3. I'd give HER lashings of fucking everything!! ...oh, erm...

    No. I hadn't seen Final-Gear before, but it did inspire me to finally nerd-up and download uTorrent so I could get all piratey (at 2am last night).
    Should have the whole season by Saturday night.

    For some true Food-Porn, check the URL on my prev Comment...

  4. Yeah, I walked into that one ...

    But I did find that video incredibly interesting - and a little grotty.

  5. You just need to have one of the presenters repeatedly try and total himself in a car. Richard Hammond is a legend over here for his ability to destroy a car (and a bit of himself), that's the sort of dedication you need.

    That said, I'm more of a James May fan. Maybe because I don't actually drive.

    Oh, and other, other sam, don't you find watching Nigella is a bit like brushing against a ladie's breast by accident when reaching for your pint in the pub?


An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32