I love Top Gear. The UK version, not the American one. I watch it when I’m upset, and it cheers me up. I watch it when I’m happy, and it keeps me smiling.
I also love cars. Modern, expensive, elegant ones, as well as classics and cars that are falling apart so much they shouldn’t still exist. I love the sensation of driving, especially if I don’t have to be anywhere.
But I’ve always felt that shows about cars are like sports. I like to play but have no desire to watch them on television. So why have I, and millions of other people, been happily watching and loving Top Gear for 17 series?
One reason probably is the cars. People do watch the show because of the vehicles that the hosts drive, test, crash, and otherwise abuse. Some people watch it because of the technical specifications and the history, but I think they’re in the minority. Tech specs and history wouldn’t have made Top Gear the success that it is. Personally, I find the technical information interesting, but even I wouldn’t want to watch three blokes discussing gas mileage and horsepower for an hour each week.
What Top Gear does is bring us the closest to supercars like Lamborghinis and Ferraris that most of us will ever get. It also lets us have adventures that it’s unlikely we’ll ever experience. We’re never going to have the opportunity to drive up the side of an active volcano in a Toyota Hilux or discover whether a Volkswagen camper van makes a good boat. How many people will ever drive from Iraq to Bethlehem, looking for gold, frankincense, and myrrh? And as much as I dream of driving a Bugatti Veyron, I know that the chances of that ever happening are almost nonexistent.
I asked Twitter whether anyone watched Top Gear for the cars and got a few different responses. One person said that they watch it for the mishaps. Another said they like the snark and absurd ideas. And another told me they don’t actually care about cars at all, but they still watch the show. All of which support my theory that people don’t watch Top Gear because it’s a car show; in fact, I’m starting to believe that it’s just the opposite, that quite a number of viewers watch it despite it being a show about cars.
I’m a petrol head. I truly do love cars. But what I really love about Top Gear is watching people do stupid things and have crazy escapades that I’ll never have the ability or courage to do. I can laugh at the problems and silly mistakes, knowing that, given the chance, I’d probably do exactly the same things.
Is Top Gear a show about cars? Sure. But as you look deeper, it’s really a show about adventures, drama, friendship, and complete insanity. Whatever you choose to see in it, it’s probably there. It just depends on your interpretation.