Sometimes the biggest problem with the release of the single season of a television series to DVD is that there simply isn't enough there. The show, as is the case with Top Gear, is both great fun and well put together, but with a mere six episodes on two DVDs and no special features, the fun runs out all too soon.
The 11th season of the show that is purportedly about cars but in actuality so much more still features presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond, and The Stig is still present to set power lap times and show up the presenters whenever he possibly can. It is a solid formula, and one that needs no alteration. As this reviewer has repeatedly noted, Top Gear's combination of wit and wisdom, laughs and lug nuts, mechanics and mayhem makes what otherwise could be a niche show into something that truly everyone can enjoy.
For those unfamiliar with the series, episodes feature reviews of super (and less than super) cars, challenges laid out by the producers for the presenters, news segments, and celebrities trying their luck in a reasonably priced car on the test track. The biggest change for this 11th season is that for five of the six episodes, there is not one but two stars who get timed going around the track. It's a small change – and on that wasn't carried through to the show's 12th season – but as the stars who come on together both appear in support of the same show it is one that works.
One of the best moments in the season comes in the final episode, when Clarkson, Hammond, and May take on the hosts of the German car show, D Motor, in a battle to decide which is the best motoring country. The segment features some incredibly creative challenges which the hosts of both shows deal with in fine fashion.
The highlight of the 11th season however is not the dual (and sometimes dueling) stars in reasonably priced cars, but rather Top Gear's trip to Japan. Clarkson in a Nissan GT-R races against Hammond and May who take a combination of various forms of public transit to go from Hakui to the top of Mount Nokogiri. The episode is filled with the humor that is so pervasive on the show, and once more the sense that these are incredibly smart men who could do manage to do sensible things if only they wanted to be sensible. It is, of course, far better for the audience that they opt not to focus on sensible pursuits.
Top Gear, though not technically a travel show, excels in the episodes where the presenters do venture away from England. Season 10 of the series featured the famed "Botswana Special," "The Polar Special" might mark an all-time high for the series, and season 12 sends the guys off to Vietnam (more on that later in the week). Though only a small amount of information about the country they are visiting is generally provided, the cameramen and editors are able to provide wonderful, picturesque views, and a good feel for the place.
Perhaps that is what is most impressive about the series – not the brilliance of the presenters in terms of their knowledge, humor, and love of the subject they cover, but the way the entire series is shot and edited together. The love for cars and television goes beyond the presenters and producers on the series, and clearly extends to the camera operators and editors as well. Though Top Gear has a very free-wheeling, almost manic, feel at times, seeing how the taped pieces are put together, how the cars are depicted, and how the entire series comes together. Top Gear repeatedly focuses on small elements on the vehicles, the little things that really help make a good car feel truly special. Though the viewer may never get the chance to actually sit inside a Nissan GT-R, Top Gear truly makes one feel as though they have.
Unfortunately, as stated above, the fun in season 11 ends all too soon. Three hundred sixty-four minutes representing six episodes and no extras of the best show on television is great, but not as great as 500 minutes with extras would be (Top Gear – The Complete Season 12 though is also now available).