The elephant in the room is the elephant is the room. Literally, in the studio with James May and Richard Hammond. It’s a model, not an actual living elephant, though I bet they tried to get one of them. But funny all the same. Would a mammoth – woollier, more extinct – have been better? Though that’s not really the expression is it, the woolly mammoth in the studio …
It’s not a normal Top Gear episode, this last in the Clarkson-Hammond-May era, but a couple of films that had already been shot, pre steak-gate. With you-know-who himself then. The first is about classic cars: they each have one, an MGB, a Fiat 124 Spider and a Peugeot 304 Decapotable.
Off they set, on a classic-car adventure, mainly an overextended joke about classic cars being crap and breaking down a lot. Especially the French one. Jeremy Clarkson creates an oil slick in the Cotswolds. Jeremy Clarkson pretty much is an oil slick in the Cotswolds.
They break down some more, then pull into adjacent garages for a winter of tinkering, because that’s what classic-car enthusiasts do. Oh dear, Jeremy has a plate of food in his garage – let’s hope it’s hot, for the sake of whoever provided it. (Oisin Tymon, the producer he punched, gets a credit, incidentally – that’s nice.)
Emerging in spring, they compare their newly pimped rides. One has a stretchy plastic protective cover over the steering wheel, “a condom for the steering wheel”, Jeremy calls it. James does a better joke: “If you’re a monk, with hair round the sides but not on top, it’s also a shower cap,” he says, demonstrating. Jeremy laughs, generously. I laugh, begrudgingly. It’s a problem for the woolly liberal Guardian disapprover (as opposed to the woolly mammoth): sometimes you can’t help yourself, it is funny.
The camaraderie between the three seems – has always seemed – genuine. It is the steel chassis upon which the show was built (and which will have to be built again, though Chris Evans is also good at posse-forming). I’m not buying the spontaneity, though. It’s blatantly rehearsed, scripted banality – Top Gear invented the genre. And then got rather good at it. It’s clever stupid telly.
To an airshow, and Hammond (I’ll never be on first-name terms with that one) has won. Won what? It doesn’t matter; everything is a competition, and a race. His prize is be strapped to the wing of a stunt aeroplane and thrown, screaming, about the sky – hahahaha, proper belly laugh this time.
Then it’s back on the road for more arsing about, in old 4x4s this time. Jeremy inevitably runs over some bicycles, which mercifully happen to be riderless, and he’s mildly offensive to Turkey. Hammond likes his Jeep. “It’s brilliant, I’ve got wood,” he says, with a pause, before pointing at the dashboard and adding “here”, so he can pretend he wasn’t referencing the Hammond organ. Tee hee, he did a pre-watershed willy joke – but it wasn’t supposed to be, honest, Mr Hall. Like the number plate in Argentina, H982 FKL, which had nothing to with the 1982 FKLands war.
They trash their cars, roll them off cliffs, cut them in half, as they have done so many times before. And actually, although this wasn’t the way they expected or chose for it to end, there is something apt about it. These loud, ageing, dented, inappropriate, particle-farting gas-guzzlers may have no place on – or off – the road today, but they actually perform resiliently and rather brilliantly, right to the very end. And you could say the same about the cars, boom-boom.
Hammond loses this time, has to give a speech to the Carbon and Sustainability Trust. Ha, also funny – the idea, more so than the execution. The ideas, the humour, the chutzpah, for which executive producer Andy Wilman (along with Clarkson) must take the credit/blame, are hard to argue with. We can boo the puerility – and worse – of the presenters, plus the laddishness, the message etc, but this Top Gear has often been imaginative, original, entertaining, amusing and artfully made television.
That’s it then. The future is ginger; while Jeremy, James, Hammond and Andy are taken away to be crushed (imagine that, a Clarkson cube!). Except, they’re not at the scrapyard, of course, they’ll soon be on Netflix or wherever. Recycled.