I must preface this review by noting that I am not a car person. I don't have a car; I'm not interested in Ferraris or Astor Martins; I couldn't change a car's oil; to me a good car is one that gets me from point A to point B, and a great car has a cd player. And yet I absolutely love Top Gear, a British show that's all about cars and other vehicles.

Top Gear is hosted by three men. Jeremy Clarkson is the big, dopey guy who's always thrilled with speed and power. Richard Hammond is a cheerful guy who suffers from innumerable jokes about his height and having his teeth whitened. And James May is the quietest, most thoughtful member of the show; he's also nicknamed "Captain Slow" due to his poor track record at the show's races. The only other regular cast member is the Stig, the silent professional driver who's always wearing a white racing suit and a face-concealing helmet.

As you might expect, Clarkson, Hammond, and May race cars -- some of the fastest, most powerful cars in the world. They also have the Stig drive them around a track, then keep a record of which cars have the fastest times. If that was all there was to Top Gear, this show would be pretty boring. But there's a lot more.

Every episode the three hosts face off against each other, or others, in a series of challenges. They had to build their own strtetch limousines (resulting in a 45-foot car, a convertible limo with no roof, and the front halves of two cars fused together) and drive a celebrity to an awards show; they had to make buy Astor-Martins for less than a thousand pounds and enter them in an Astor-Martin contest. (Hammond's car leaked so much coolant he had to crank it in from the driver's seat while driving.) Once a host raced down a snow-covered mountain, competing with two skiers heading down. And, in a full-length episode, Clarkson and May (in a specially-designed jeep) raced Hammond (on a dogsled) from Canada to the North Pole.

There are other features on the show. Celebrities drive around a track in a Very Reasonably Priced Car, with their results posted for all to see. News and strange items are discussed, from upcoming car plans to bizarre laws.

Top Gear is simply terrific. Even a car novice like me can tell that Clarkson, Hammond, and May are experts at cars, able to determine and discuss what makes a car great, awful, or simply fun. There's a lot of ribbing between the three ("It's a very elegant solutuon to a problem that never should have existed in the first place") and their competitiveness goes hand in hand with their playfulness. There are the occasional "Britishisms" -- references that may be hilarious or well known in England but mean nothing here in America -- but otherwise Top Gear perfectly captures the joys of driving and vehicles.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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