Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dear Top Gear Australia,

Well done on a first season. You were better than we all thought you'd be.
But, lads, you missed the mark.
The filming was brilliant. The look of the thing was bright, exciting and Australian. But you still missed the mark. In trying not to be UK Top Gear, you missed out the things that make UK Top Gear worth watching.
I've written about this before, but I wasn't clear enough. I understand now where I went wrong, and I apologise. It's not just that we all want to drive the cars with you, we want to understand them. Pretend they're ours. We want to be able to quote the stats at our mates and also potificate about how the air-conditioning comes from a Mondeo.
When you take out our Lambourghinis for a spin, we don't just want you to read out the sales brochure. We want you to interpret it. Don't tell us about the torque, tell us it would actually twist tarmac to ribbons if the tyres were any stickier. Don't tell us the thing is fast, tell us it's already next Tuesday. Exaggeration, hyperbole, superfluities, lies. How much power does the W427 have? Four Million kilowatts! That's how much! Yeah! Broom Broom!
The problem is that you have writers, but not motoring journalists. The staged-gags and wordplays are good, but not the car-related ones. The car talk is all written down verbatim from the nervous nellies handing over the Emotional Control Units to the hosts. There's no opinion, no criticism. I understand that car manufacturers are loathe to put their product images in the hands of so powerful a medium as Top Gear, but when you "do" a car, don't just tell us that you love it. Tell us it handles like a caffeinated chiuhaha. Tell us the interior reminds you of your accountant's tearoom (practical, sparse, boring and with little teabag expense accounts ticking away in the ether).

I never saw you dislike a car. Not even slightly. Praise is boring. The only reason you're still reading this is because I'm not blowing spun sugar into your dacks. Our eyes tell us that black GT is brilliant. Only you can keep us watching with the audacity to suggest that it's an ugly, over-powered brute with switches from a 1980s cassette recorder. Do some hotlaps in the R8 and then have a good old bitch about how it looks like the guy at your formal who didn't understand that cummerbunds were meant to go inside the suit.

The final show's Holden vs Ford showdown. You came out and tested the entry-level variations. The family cars. I was thrilled. I was excited.
'Aha!' I said aloud to the empty loungeroom. 'Here comes the tomfoolery, the japes, the mucking about and the falling over.'
You did doughnuts. Again. We've seen the doughnuts. We've seen the breaking test and the drag race.
Did the words 'family car' not ring any bells? No? I'll try another question: at the risk of borrowing too much from UK Top Gear, have you noticed
that when your English cousins do comparative road tests on less-than-thrilling cars the tests themselves are always mockeries of normal usability tests, the testing is a slapstick routine minus the pies and the results are ridiculously skewed and unimportant? Have you noticed how entertaining that is?
I'll give you a clue: how about a family car test that involves, oh I don't know, a family? Why weren't the hosts dressed up in floral dresses and skateboarding shorts and told to fetch as many groceries as possible for their respective vehicles? Why weren't a gaggle of school kids raced around the track in the back seat on their way to footy practices with points for whoever's surrogate children kicked the most goals? I just thought of those then, and I'm doing it for free.

The major clue to the mark-missing that's gone on all season was during the final montage.
'What a great season,' one of the presenters grinned. 'Check out what fun we had!'
Play montage. About thirty seconds in came a long series of clips of the presenters behind the wheels of very different cars all exclaiming 'How good is this?'
Yes, I know it's a classic example of Aussie rhetoric. What am I, an idiot? But taken out of that context, I can't help but notice that they never answered the question. We see the Porsche. We hear it. We watch our mates up there on-screen driving it and grinning like Luna Park winning a lottery ticket. Then they all turn to camera and ask "How good is this?"
'I don't know!' we all shout. 'Why don't you tell us?'

Come back next year boys. Review some cars. Don't be afraid to fall over and complain. And watch a bit of UK Top Gear. Take notes.

GTH - Points to the long-absent Moify for his usual brand of stalktacular guessing, and a point to Kath for offering to buy me a beer. Kath, you will receive TWO points upon receipt of said beer. THREE if you bring it to me before I have to go onstage and brave my famously acidic nervous farts.


  1. I like the header this week!

    GTH: Can't narrow it down, 1967-9 Mustang Coupe, and I'm going to guess this could be a car you wish to drive or at least road test.

    The blue colour is beautiful. I want one.

    Damn in Franzy, I was hoping to get some work done today, not spend all day on Cars Guide.

  2. P.s.

    I thought the top gear guys did a pretty good job. Yeah, they're not the Hammer, Clarkson, or Captain Slow, but I think they held there own.

    They went lawn bowling with Barina's. Starting of hesitantly, then letting the little matchbox cars have it.

    They weren't sure they'd have the backing of the car companies, I think they were right. Perhaps next year they'll get some serious backing and come out not scared to let them have it.

  3. Yeah, money was always going to be a problem when comparing it to the UK version. I was watching a recent episode of the British version where they went to America to test muscle cars. Two of them start out introducing their particular vehicles and Hammond walks onscreen in front of an empty lot and explains that Dodge had refused to give them a car because they had been very nasty about their other cars in past.
    *ding* Two hours later, he's driving the car.
    "Where did we get this?" he asks the camera. "I bought this one. Thought you could stop us, eh?"
    It's a great moment for escapism, but TG Aus is never going to pull that kind of stuff off, not with only $200,000 - $300,000 an episode.
    But still, then there was the time they got their mothers to review some cars for them and that didn't look particularly expensive.

    I think you're right about manufacturers getting behind them next season. Surely.

  4. Oh wow I don't even want to start on how much I detest that show and all its versions

  5. I once made the mistake of asking my family what their fave Aussie muscle car was:

    Dad: Jag.
    Brother: Mini.
    Big Sis: yellow 1990 Mazda 121 (the only car she has ever, and probably will ever, own).
    Wife: That's a stupid question.

    They'll all be sorry when I'm rich and own an XB Coupe


    So, while knowing sweet fanny adams about how they actually work myself, I do admire your passion for the motor vehicle and am hopeful that ATG heeds your sage advice.

    GTH - blue 1990 Mazda 121?

  6. I just hope they hire me!

    Actually, if you read the post carefully, you'll notice that I always watch Top Gear alone, not because I banish all others, but because any time it comes on there is always much screaming, eye-rolling and flouncing off to other parts of the house to pursue more intellectual activities like reading books.

    And: respect for your muscle car of choice.

    Here's an impromptu meme for everything else commenting here:
    Pick your dream car.
    Winner gets a point. Sensible cars don't count.

    I'll kick things off: 09 Nissan GT-R.

  7. I also Liked Hammond's mention of how long the wait is for the Dodge in showrooms... which required him to spend $10,000 more (of his own money) than the sticker price to drive away in what was (presumably) the demonstrator model!!!

    I bet that cartoonist guy isn't on the same wicket as Capt Slow...

    ...Also, does anyone else think that the Oz-Stig looks like a certain short, skinny porsche test driver?...

  8. Just thinking about it though, the TGUK presenters are known to be quite wealthy, but there are still plenty of gags that play on the cars they've bought and the personal money they spend. If the Australian hosts were to pull the same kind of "I just spent 15,000 POUNDS on servicing my car", there would be a cultural cringe - from us Australians anyway.
    Which is why I imagine that in the last Australian episode, they reviewed that latest Jag, mentioned that it $170,000 and completely glossed over the lightening-quick revelation that Pizzati had actually bought one himself.
    I recall the entertainment value in watching Clarkson reviewing a new Mercedes. Instead of smoking the tyres and gunning the engine, he piloted it sedately up and down the runway, praising its comfort and features. Then he turned to camera and said "I know some of you are probably wondering why I'm not behaving like a lead-footed hoon, as we normally do when Mercedes sends us a new car with fresh tyres. That's because this isn't Mercedes' car. It's mine."
    And every person watching went "Yeah, man. No way I'd be putting my new Merc's tyres through the blender. Me either."
    They steal enough other segments from UKTG, why not steal some of the old gags?

    Do I watch WAAAAAY too much Top Gear, or what?

  9. Not watch, analyse!

    Dream Car: Mentioned in my GTH earlier. Check myspace photos.

  10. but you wouldn't really want another show where men put on dresses and we're supposed to think that's funny? Would you?

    They give you Top Gear on the plane from Abu Dhabi to Sydney. That's a really intersting thing to say, isn't it?

  11. Shippy - Why don't you come and write my thesis for me? Free coffee.

    3rd Cat - You are absolutely right and I would like to retract that statement. Let's just have them hooning around real shopping centre car parks instead.

    Although, I suspect the problem is that with these comparison things, the two cars are SO similar that anything other than braking tests are genuinely useless and inconsequential.

  12. Franzy I *still* think you were robbed from being offered a hosting job yourself on Aussie Top Gear - your video was a classic.

    Non practical dream car of my (very unmechanical minded, but very attracted to outer car bodies) imagination - New Subaru Impreza hatchback. Barely any room for Milly but I love the idea of it being a zippy car *and* a hatchback - that'd drive most straight guys insane I'd reckon.

    Oh and I have to admit this somewhere, to someone other than Love Chunks who rolls his eyes and says stuff like, "No way in hell." The new mid-sized S50 Volvo station wagon. I want one. And a hat to wear while driving it.

  13. I'm sorry, the new Impreza will score you no points due it having four sensible doors AND room for a sensible (sized) dog. If you want a zippy hatchback which qualifies as non-sensible, may I suggest something along these lines?

    Whatever, you will have to work quite hard to erase the smear of sensibility that the desire for a mid-sized Volvo with a new hat has left.

  14. Another one on the chopping block? Triple meaning to me

    #1. Another cack handed Australian TV show not given time to develop before everyone loses patience and gives it the arse so they can put on a clip show

    #2. A reference to how lousy the Aussie car industry is, and how all the factories close

    #3. A tribute to David Foster, Aussie woodchopper, who used to drive a car like that...no, he did...


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