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Top Gear Visits Vietnam

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Okay, last time for this season – which I only say because last night was the season finale – the genius that is Top Gear.

One of the great pleasures of watching Top Gear, or if you prefer Three Fools with Motorized Transport, are their insane cross-country trips.  We've been treated to a few of them this season.  There have been visits to the States (remember that one?  They were just a few miles from me and didn't bother to phone) and Japan, but last night we got one of the best trips they've ever done.  Last night, the boys went on a road trip in Vietnam. 

Their task was simple, just drive from the south to the north, going from Saigon to Ha Long Bay.  Okay, fine, that's not simple at all, particularly when the task has to be accomplished Top Gear-style.  That pretty much consists of giving the guys no information in advance and not enough money to buy a decent set of wheels.  In the case of this Vietnam road trip it meant them buying old motorbikes – and Jeremy Clarkson doesn't bike.

It was so big and episode so bad (in a good way) an episode that it required way more than an hour to pack it all in.  It took a full one hour and forty minutes to get the bad boy out there.  What I have to wonder though is why the episode wasn't two hours long.  If it had been two hours long we could have seen the Stig's Vietnamese cousin.  How did Stig's Vietnamese cousin not appear last night?  Was Stig's Vietnamese cousin in the full version, not the worldwide cut?

It's an intriguing enough proposition that he might be that I'm considering getting the episode from iTunes to find out.  I just found out a few weeks ago that at iTunes they don't air the worldwide version, they have a longer cut.  And, for what it's worth, I've also learned that from time to time over there at iTunes they do stuff like give away free episodes.  In fact, a quick of that Apple-based website indicates that the "Vietnam Special" episode runs one hundred and thirteen minutes, fully 13 minutes longer than the version we got last night, and in the version that aired over the air we got commercials.  Perhaps the Stig's Vietnamese cousin does appear in that version.

As for the episode itself, I find myself constantly amazed at much those three guys try to get under one-another's skin.  I have to imagine that when all is said and done they're able to get past their upset and work together, but there are clearly moments when, in the heat of filming they hate each other.  Last night May and Clarkson painted (with the help of some locals) Hammond's bike pink.  Normally, the show would give us Hammond's reaction upon first seeing his newly colored bike.  We didn't get that.  We only saw him riding the bike later and clearly unhappy. 

This, I firmly believe, is not a moment that was edited out (I'm sure someone will correct me if it was).  No, I think that Hammond was so absolutely livid that they couldn't show his reaction.  I don't really wish for him to have been livid, it just seems the most logical reason for them not showing it.  If it was simply edited out to show his reaction later, that would seem like some bad editing work, the impact of the immediate reaction being a better pay off in the situation.

But, even outside of the painting of the bike, the Vietnam trip has to rank as one of the best special episodes the series has done.  Like so many of the other road trips, this one was less about the specifics of the transportation and much more a travelogue.  It made me want to go to Vietnam – not during the rainy season and on a cheap, broken down bike – but it made me want to go and visit the country.  It showed the beauty of the country as well as some of the strife, it talked a little about its history and some about the people.  It was both funny and heartfelt.

So, though I have given them many kudos in the past, let me do it once more this season.  It was an incredible way for Top Gear to go out.  It educated (about the world if not cars), entertained, and left me wanting more.  What better season finale could there be?

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.