Top Gear on History has continued the long and glorious tradition of using motor vehicles in a way that the manufacturer never intended. We saw cars do the job of pick-up trucks in Texas; mini-vans sailed across icy waters in Continental Divide; and, the legendary Flying (and crashing) Coupe DeVille. In this instalment, three of the smallest cars sold in America went where no small car (as far as we know) has gone before. Times are tough all around. Everyone is worried, to a lesser or greater degree, about the economy and the environment. Vehicle manufacturers cater for these concerns while trying to keep modern life as convenient as possible. For folks who live in big cities where public transport is available SUV’s, pick-up trucks and even a midsize car are not only expensive to own and maintain; but also troublesome to drive and/or park on congested city streets. Enter the subcompact car. Not only is it a good deal cheaper than its larger brethren, but also pretty darned perfect for life in a metropolis.
A metropolis is a large and busy city. However, after last week’s live-tweets during the Police Cars premiere, the hosts announced that this episode was going to take place in the Louisiana Bayou; which is the polar opposite of a large and busy city. True to their word, the episode began in New Orleans’ French Quarter where the cast introduced us their pint-sized chariots. Adam Ferrara stood up for his Italian heritage and arrived in a very pretty 2012 Fiat 500. Tanner Foust grumbled along in the teeny-tiny 2012 Smart Fortwo Passion Cabriolet. While Rutledge Wood who we’ve seen have trouble getting in and out of a Lamborghini Murciélago Roadster, somehow managed to squeeze himself into the diminutive 2012 Scion IQ. Their mission was to discern which of these three cars is America’s best. It started out with a wild race to Algiers Point and included a ride through Blaine Kearn’s Mardi Gras World.
“Where are the beads? Who’s got the beads?” – Tanner Foust
Next they drove the small cars out of their comfort zone and onto the Interstate. Their destination was one hundred and fifty-two miles away: the Atchafalaya Swamp. Along the way, they had a highway popularity contest for their cars. Now, the last time anybody associated with Top Gear wrote stuff on their cars while driving through the South…it didn’t end well. At least this time around, they had the good sense to use a chalk ink marker instead of spray paint. Of course, the big lesson from this challenge was that if you’re in a contest like this and the last guy in line is winning but doesn’t want to pass you….shenanigans. The boys arrived at the swamp and were ‘welcomed’ by a group of local hunters. They were jovially unimpressed by the city cars, and the city people. However, the cast’s next challenge was to impress these tough-guys by going on a hunting trip for a type of wild rodent called Nutria (Coypu). Not to be confused with Agouti or Manicou. One of which is a rat while the other is an Opossum, and all are tasty when curried. Don’t judge me and my third-world ways.
“Tanner’s driving a Home Depot shopping cart and Rut is driving an aggressive suppository…which is never good.” – Adam Ferrara
The boys seemed genuinely pleased with themselves and the improvements on their vehicles. That is until the hunters turned up in their monster trucks. At that point, their collective self-esteem level plummeted to the swamp’s slimy bottom. Adam’s hunting companion, Troy, seemed to be a good-natured fellow and practical joker. However, Chad who rode along with Tanner started out as challenging as the challenge itself. Rutledge was the only one who got to try his hand at some actual hunting with Brandon; and made a self-discovery in the process. The guys were then tasked with buying important supplies to a big cook-out and headed off to Gator Cove. Luckily, they didn’t get into too much trouble while exploring the alligator farm. However what followed was one of those rare and superlatively entertaining situations when all three hosts would have preferred to have been anywhere else in the world except there. We’re talking about heavy, slimy, gross, malodorous, dead cargo; unlike the crustacean hordes in Rutledge’s IQ. It was pure television gold and quite frankly, I’ve barely recovered.
“They’re gonna pinch me, and I’m gonna pull over and then I’m gonna get out and then I’m gonna kick the [bleep] out of you.” – Rutledge Wood
The Top Gear boys’ bayou odyssey didn’t end with a delightful bar-b-que because there was one challenge left and it was the most demoralising one yet. Each car was involved in a tug-of-war with an airboat. It wasn’t a matter as to who won, as to who lost best. Or in this case, who didn’t win any of the contests that were actually winnable. Now, I’ve tried to write these reviews to leave out spoilers but the show’s last segment is a spoiler in itself. For the first time, we saw an actual punishment for the guy who came in third place. This ultimate non-winner would have to drive the 1965 Peel Trident, a tiny, two-seater, three-wheeled, no reverse-gear car through his hometown for all to see and ridicule. However, the man was Rutledge Wood and the place was picturesque Senoia, Georgia: where we saw him take those loser lemons and make them into sweet, refreshing lemonade. It turned out to be a fun way to end the episode and gave us Top Gear on History’s very first Mom sighting.
The episode featured Top Gear’s famous camera shots with smooth close-ups, vehicular beauty shots and shadows on the screen. One of my favourites is when all three cars line up so we can see the hosts talking to the cameras and each other. This is particular effective when one cracks a joke and we see the others laugh or grimace in real time. It captures their chemistry well. Simultaneously, we’re reminded that the core of this show is three dudes driving cars and having fun. The soundtrack is also quite outstanding and I was glad that they left out the sounds of banjos from this episode. That would have been too much. I’ve got to say that this may be one of my favourite episodes yet and one that I’d happily buy on iTunes. Next week’s show is currently nameless, but has to do with selling used cars, Rutledge dressed up like an astronaut and Tanner blasting somebody with a water cannon. Champion.
The episode set to air on August 28, 2012 is called Cult Classics.