As people in California have found out this week, it never rains but it pours. And, as with what is currently occurring in California, while there is such a thing as too much rain – sometimes it's actually needed. It may be a little hard to suggest that the United States needed two full seasons of Top Gear released in the same week, but it does make up for the recent drought.
The biggest weakness this reviewer noted with Top Gear – The Complete Season 11 is that it contains a mere six episode and no special features. Released on the same day was Top Gear – The Complete Season 12, which contains eight episodes as well as a smattering of special features. While more is not necessarily always better, those looking for a car and humor fix within an exceedingly well-crafted television show will get a bigger fix from the latter, not the former.
Top Gear – The Complete Season 12 still features presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond as well as the one and only (except for the other one, but that may be a little too much inside baseball) The Stig. The presenters still have the excellent chemistry that has helped make the show so watchable, managing to perfectly blend insight and intelligence with humor and just a tad of backbiting.
One repeated segment this season features Clarkson powering various household items with car engines. The exceedingly funny segments – which do feature items that seem an awful lot like the kind of thing Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor would create – include powering a food blender with a V8 engine. Though these bits have less to do with cars than most of the things that happen on the show, they are laugh-out-loud funny.
The main trip Clarkson, Hammond, and May makes this season, following on the heels of season 10's trip to Botswana and 11's trip to Japan, is an excursion to Vietnam. The episode doesn't quite hit the heights of the Botswana trip, but does make for a highly enjoyable episode. The three men must travel through Vietnam on motorcycles, and not the highest quality ones at that. Their distress (mainly Clarkson's) at the various predicaments they find themselves in and towards each other are what make the episode work as well as it does, even if Clarkson's anger does seem awfully forceful at times. But then again, the series is always at the top of its game when the three men at its center are somewhat unhappy or at least feigning being unhappy.
By no means though is the Vietnam trip the only the only one the guys make this season, they also head to the United States, where, they have been informed, they are not allowed to be entertaining as their visas don't allow for it. Seriously. That bit of oddness is just the sort of thing that a lesser show would allow to deter it, but on Top Gear the hosts and producers are able to turn this impediment into a joke and it only serves to add to the episode rather than detract from it. Perhaps though, the highlight for longtime fans of the series and gear-heads is The Stig's finally getting to take a Bugatti Veyron around the Top Gear track and set a power lap time.
The special features included on the four disc set, while not overly plentiful, are certainly worth the time it takes to watch them. There is a commentary for the Vietnam Special with executive producer Andy Wilman and some of the crew; a director's version of the Botswana Special (which also has a commentary track); extended versions of the Top Gear Awards, a Cool Wall segment, and a Boris Johnson interview; as well as a few deleted scenes.
Watching Top Gear – The Complete Season 12 right on the heels of The Complete Season 11, one gets to watch 14 episodes of hugely entertaining television. A member of the US audience will probably note that the 14 episodes of those two seasons combined constitute fewer episodes than a single traditional US television season. However, if ever there were an argument for quality of over quantity, Top Gear is it. The show's quality – both in terms of ideas and execution – is something one wouldn't want to see tampered with solely in order for them to pump out more episodes. And, the episodes are incredibly rewatchable, so it is possible to fill those long, dark months between new episodes.