Blightyvision: “Jeremy Clarkson Meets the Neighbours”

Written and presented by Jeremy Clarkson
Directed by Dennis Jarvis

“Top Gear” presenter Jeremy Clarkson travels to various countries in Europe to learn more about their history, culture, society, and pastimes.  The almost train-wreck-ish appeal of the concept is evident immediately if you know anything about the man — it’d be like asking Jamie Oliver to do a thoughtful taste-test of marshmallow fluff.  But no matter how abrasive Clarkson is, if you’ve stayed with him this long you probably secretly love his angry diatribes against anything that … well, on anything, really.

If that’s what you’re here for, you’ll get maybe half an episode of satisfaction for each installment.  Because while you do get your expected disapproval sprinkled with those infamous Clarkson similes, his findings aren’t entirely negative, even to him — and you actually learn a few things along the way.

Each episode focuses on a different part of the continent — in particular France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Germany.  Tooling a Jaguar E-Type around to each location, he stops in to speak with everyone from image consultants to competitive pipe-smokers, tries the local cuisine, and (of course) makes light commentary on car- and road-related trivia by area.

As expected, Jeremy’s general opinion of each country as he enters is that it is too posh, not posh enough, too boring, too busy, or basically too something compared to his own experiences.  Once his spleen is vented, though, he digs down into the culture of the place, with surprising results.  He doesn’t go the same route as, say, Stephen Fry — i.e. going almost entirely with obscure small-town culture that would otherwise go unnoticed.  He does take a look at building-climbers and small-town pastimes, but he also proves or disproves widely-held beliefs about certain areas.  For example, one of the big things he does while passing through the Netherlands is see just how true the worldview of it as the Land of Sex and Drugs is.  (Spoiler: not very.)

I’m not sure I’d count this as a learning or life-changing experience for him.  He treats the trip as being alternately a hassle or a pleasant surprise, depending on whether he’s placing bets on where cows will poop or eating illegal French delicacies.  (The two are not related.)  It is, however, a fun ride, and while you get the sort of sarkiness you’re expecting, it’s also fun to see that they’re not just using the series as an outlet for said sarkiness.  That would be almost too easy.  It’s far from being a fond look around, but it’s a lot more mainstream of a travelogue than people might think.

That said, if you find Jeremy too obnoxious for your liking, even the upbeat bits of the program likely won’t save it for you.  This is for his fans.  And if you are a fan, you’ll more than likely enjoy the hell out of it.  If you can get your hands on it.

“Jeremy Clarkson Meets the Neighbours” doesn’t seem to have affected what countries “Top Gear” can be shown in, which should tell you enough about the show on its own.