Ranking the Top Gear Specials

*Written in 2014.

Top Gear is one of the greatest shows on television. Hell, it is so successful that they’re currently filming the 22nd series, right now.

The dynamic between Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May is uncanny. They play off of each other extremely well, each has their own contrasting personality and they each bring something different but great to the show.

Nothing is better though, than seeing these guys go at it in some crazy race or competition. Well, maybe one thing is better. And that thing is when these guys are stuck together in some strange corner of the world and have to fight the elements and challenges ahead.

These are what the Top Gear specials are all about. Taking these three men, making them really uncomfortable and leaving them to sort it all out and reach whatever finish line is at the end of the ordeal.

Here, I have ranked all of the Top Gear specials from my favorite to least favorite. Granted, they are all pretty damned good.

1. The Polar Special (2007)
2. The India Special (2011)
3. The Vietnam Special (2008)
4. The Bolivia Special (2009)
5. The Middle East Special (2010)
6. The Botswana Special (2007)
7. The Africa Special (2013)
8. The Burma Special (2014)
9. The United States Special (2007)
10. The USA Road Trip (2010)
11. The Winter Olympics Special (2006)

TV Review: Doctor Who – The Tenth Doctor Era (2006-2010)

Original Run: April 15th, 2006 – January 1st, 2010
Created by: Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, Donald Wilson
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Murray Gold
Cast: David Tennant, Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman, John Barrowman, Catherine Tate, Bernard Cribbins, Elisabeth Sladen, John Simm, Kylie Minogue, David Morrissey, Michelle Ryan, Lindsay Duncan, Noel Clarke

BBC, 44 Episodes, 45-72 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

David Tennant is considered by most to be the best Doctor of all-time. He’s my second favorite after Tom Baker but his accolades and admiration are definitely deserved, as he took what Christopher Eccleston walked away from and turned it into something that was very much his and better than anything the franchise had done since the high point of the Tom Baker era, which ended in 1981.

The Tennant era of Who is the best era of the modern incarnation of the franchise. Sure, I love all the Doctors in different ways but this was the real peak for me since the show relaunched in 2005. Russell T. Davies just had a certain magic that Stephen Moffat, who took over with the Matt Smith era, could emulate and build from but had a much harder time at maintaining it and being consistent.

I just love this era of the show. It isn’t perfect, by any means and has a few hiccups, but overall, this was a great thing to experience. For other lovers of this franchise, this span in the show’s history is almost like a love letter to you. It taps into the spirit of the original shows much better than the Eccleston stuff and it brings back some key elements that were missing in the first season, most notably the Master and some of the more famous alien villains.

Furthermore, Tennant has great chemistry with every single person that they paired him with. His relationship with Rose got heavier and more intimate than it did when Eccleston was in the role. His time with Martha was great and you hurt for her and for him, as he continued to mourn the great loss he felt with Rose. The Tennant team up with Catherine Tate as Donna Noble was the best part of the show but once that relationship extends into the Doctor also having a bond with her grandfather, Bernard Cribbins’ Wilfred Mott, it got even better. You also got to see Tennant work well with David Morrissey (the future Governor from The Walking Dead), Kylie Minogue, the former Tom Baker companion Sarah Jane (played by Elisabeth Sladen, once again), Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and a slew of others. But it’s his chemistry with the John Simm version of the Master that really showcased how good both men are.

I adore the Tennant years on Doctor Who. It is the best run of the modern era… period. Although, Matt Smith’s run after this was pretty darn good too and even if I didn’t like a lot of the Peter Capaldi stuff, I did love Capaldi’s Doctor. But David Tennant’s run will be a near impossible feat to try and top.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The Ninth and Eleventh Doctors’ runs.

TV Review: Black Books (2000-2004)

Original Run: September 29th, 2000 – April 15th, 2004
Directed by: various
Written by: Dylan Moran, Graham Linehan, Arthur Mathews, Kevin Cecil, Andy Riley
Music by: Jonathan Whitehead
Cast: Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, Tamsin Greig

Assembly Film and Television, Channel 4, BBC, 18 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

It is quite possible that Black Books is my favorite situation comedy of all-time. It is certainly in contention anyway, as it is one of those shows where I can watch any episode at any time and still find it uncontrollably funny. The jokes and gags don’t get old, the camaraderie amongst the cast is iron clad and the tone of the show in how it deals with its subject matter and its use of timing, is impeccable. Very few shows are this well written and have the comedic talent capable of optimizing such great writing, as well as the cast of Black Books.

The plot follows Bernard (played by Dylan Moran) who is a drunk Irishman living in London running a bookshop. With him are his dimwitted but insanely lovable sidekick Manny (played by Bill Bailey) and their neighbor and friend Fran (played by Tamsin Greig). The show, like all sitcoms, follows the cast’s misadventures and misdeeds. In this case, things never seem to end well and the characters are usually their own worst enemies.

The cast plays off of each other so well and in such a way that I would put them head-to-head with any other great sitcom cast and I could guarantee they’d outshine them.

It’s sad that the show only lasted for three series, six episodes each. 18 episodes just isn’t enough but at least those 18 episodes are all quality, unlike American sitcoms that pump out 25 episodes a season, only producing a handful or less that are worthwhile. Regardless, I would love to see this revived for another series or even a proper special to officially close out the show. Yes, it has been ten years since it left the air but all three of these actors still has the talent and the ability to pull it off.

Besides, if you are a fan of the show, how could you not want to see where Bernard, Manny and Fran are ten years later? My prediction, Bernard and Manny are miserable working for some online book retailer and Fran is a cat lady with a failed liver.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: SpacedThe IT Crowd and Green Wing.

TV Review: Blackadder (1983-1989)

Also known as: The Black Adder (Series 1), Blackadder II (Series 2), Blackadder the Third (Series 3), Blackadder Goes Forth (Series 4)
Original Run: June 15th, 1983 – November, 1989
Directed by: various
Written by: Richard Curtis, Rowan Atkinson, Ben Elton
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Tim McInnerny, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Rik Mayall (cameos)

2entertain, BBC, 24 Episodes (plus 3 specials), 30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

Rowan Atkinson is pretty much a comedic genius. Add in Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Robinson, Tim McInnerny, Miranda Richardson, Brian Best and a bit of Rik Mayall and you’ve got a dream team of British comedic talent.

This is one of the best sitcoms ever produced. It is also quite unique in that each series was different and completely new. Series 1 took place in the British Middle Ages, Series 2 was set during the reign of Elizabeth I, Series 3 takes place during the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, while Series 4 takes place on the Western Front during World War I. The one thing connecting all the shows is Rowan Atkinson’s character Edmund Blackadder or just “The Blackadder”, who is a different character each series, although each incarnation is a part of the same lineage. Many of the characters on the show are also different people within their own long lineages.

Out of the series, I really enjoy the fourth series the best. All of them are good but for some reason, in the fourth, they really hit their stride and knocked it out of the park in each episode. Going backwards, I also loved series 3, as it brought Hugh Laurie in full-time and gave the show a new and permanent dynamic that really upped the ante. Series 2 is my least favorite overall but it is still a level above the majority of televisions shows from that same era. The first series is pretty fantastic too and as good as Atkinson is in it, Brian Blessed really brings something exceptional to the show.

To this day, the show still feels timeless, is pretty damned hilarious and never really seems to get old. Maybe the the fact that each series is its own period piece, helps this show have that timeless vibe. I probably watch through each series almost annually. I feel like Atkinson’s Mr. Bean has become a more popular character, at least in the United States, but his greatest work comes here, as Edmund Blackadder.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: A Bit of Fry & Laurie and The New Statesman.

Film Review: Hard Rain (1998)

Also known as: The Flood (working title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1998
Directed by: Mikael Salomon
Written by: Graham Yost
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Edward Asner, Richard Dysart, Betty White, Ricky Harris

UGC-PH, Tele-Munchen, BBC, Nordisk Film, Marubeni, Toho, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Mutual Film Company, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Look! We just want the money! You guys can walk away, we won’t kill you!” – Jim

This film has more studios, distributors and countries involved in its creation than I have ever seen. Okay, maybe not ever but there is a whole shit ton of people behind this little action movie.

It also has a pretty big cast for a movie about a town vacated due to massive flooding. But the big cast of characters was actually a benefit as this movie has so many twists, turns and character morality shifts that at its core, this is very much film-noir.

Christian Slater plays an armored truck guard. He and his older mentor, played by Edward Asner, get stuck in the flood waters as they are transporting three million dollars from the small town’s bank to safety. They are quickly overcome by a group of thieves, led by Morgan Freeman. Asner’s character is killed in the initial confrontation but Slater escapes and hides the money away in a tomb. As the water rises further, Slater is on the run from Freeman’s gang, who have acquired boats and jet skis to more easily navigate the flooded city streets.

The town is also protected by a three man police force led by Randy Quaid. They seem like a heroic lot but as the film progresses and greed takes over the hearts of nearly everyone in the film, we see the worst come out in those tasked with keeping the peace.

Minnie Driver is thrown into the film because you need eye candy and someone for the hero to try and hook up with. You also have an elderly couple who stayed behind, played by the great Betty White and Richard Dysart. There is also the town’s dam operator, played by Wayne Duvall.

Hard Rain is a guilty pleasure of mine. I know it isn’t a good movie but it is great, mindless fun for ninety minutes. The action is good, there are a lot of layers to the story and there really isn’t a dull moment. I can’t say that the script is good either but at least the plot moves swiftly, offers up some decent surprises and is interesting enough to keep one engaged.

The highlight of the film is the three male leads, all of whom played their parts well and seemed to be having fun with the material.

This is a quintessential ’90s mid-budget action picture. It doesn’t try to do too much and stays pretty grounded in reality. The premise made for an ambitious picture, especially in regards to how much water was needed to create the scenes, but it never felt over the top or ridiculous. The shootout inside the church is marvelously executed and still looks good today.

This is just a fun movie with a good cast that I have to revisit once in awhile.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Broken Arrow, another Christian Slater action film from the same era.

TV Review: Red Dwarf – The Modern Era (2012- )

Original Run: October 4th, 2012 – current
Created by: Doug Naylor
Directed by: Doug Naylor
Written by: Doug Naylor
Based on: Dave Hollis: Space Cadet by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn

Grant Naylor, Baby Cow Productions, BBC, Dave, 18 Episodes (so far), 28-30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After the success of Red Dwarf: Back to Earth in 2009, Doug Naylor and the Red Dwarf crew came back together for a full season in 2012. Since then, we’ve had seasons in 2016 and 2017 with even more on their way, from what Naylor has said.

I was hugely impressed with the tenth season when it debuted in 2012 and it was my favorite season since the sixth, way back in 1993. Everything about it just felt right. Additionally, I loved the look of the show. While Red Dwarf had lots of set changes from season to season, this one had my favorite sets since the first two seasons of the show. Plus, the writing for Red Dwarf X was absolutely stellar and there are episodes in this series that I consider classics now.

I didn’t like Red Dwarf XI as much as X but it was still pretty damn satisfying. I wasn’t a fan of the set changes but for the most part, I was captivated by these episodes. Again, good stories and great execution of the material from the cast, who, at this point, are so comfortable together that they feel like actual family.

The most recent season, Red Dwarf XII just debuted a few months ago. I got to check it out with my Britbox add-on for my FireStick. It was a pretty good season but out of the modern stuff, I still like Red Dwarf X the best. The last episode of the season was nice though, as there were some cameos of old school Red Dwarf characters that haven’t been seen since the classic run of the show in the ’90s.

The modern era of Red Dwarf is a great continuation of the series that is more in line with the show at its peak than Back to Earth and the last few seasons of the classic era.

To be honest, I would watch Red Dwarf till the end of time and there’s a part of me that hopes that we get to check in with these guys once in awhile for years to come.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Anything Red Dwarf.

 

TV Review: Red Dwarf – Back to Earth (2009)

Original Run: April 10th, 2009 – April 12th, 2009
Created by: Doug Naylor
Directed by: Doug Naylor
Written by: Doug Naylor
Based on: Dave Hollis: Space Cadet by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Sophie Winkleman

Grant Naylor, UK Gold Services Limited, BBC, Dave, 3 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

It took a decade but after the weird eighth season that capped off the original run of the Red Dwarf televisions series, we finally got the promised followup. While a theatrical film was teased for years, it never materialized. Instead, we got this three-part special that aired over Easter weekend in 2009.

Back to Earth was a vast improvement over seasons seven and eight, which left many fans baffled and sad. It also brought Red Dwarf back into people’s minds and allowed for the show to actually return in its normal form which happened in 2012 and we have since had three seasons of the show following this special.

For the most part, this is a pretty good outing for Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten. I wasn’t a fan of the multi-episode experiments they did in season eight, as they really contributed to the slow and drab feeling of that series. Here, the concept works though. But thankfully, this was the last time that they did a multi-part story.

This three parter is called Back to Earth because the Dwarfers actually get back to Earth but it is the Earth of our time. Furthermore, it isn’t the Dwarfers Earth it is literally our Earth. You see, the Red Dwarf crew discover that they are fictional characters made up to entertain us in the real world. They then go on a quest to get their show to continue because they don’t want to die with its cancellation. Of course, there are some twists in the plot and luckily for us, the show did continue beyond this.

This series is also an awesome homage to the sci-fi/neo-noir classic Blade Runner. It has a lot of gags and moments that are recreations of key scenes from the film and they are done beautifully. It added a cool aesthetic to this story.

Also, the story is a throwback to a really popular older episode. I’m not going to say which, as it may spoil some of the twists.

The only really weird thing about this series, is that it didn’t have a live audience or even a laugh track. The lack of canned laughter is actually kind of distracting but you do get used to it, once the Dwarfers leave their normal surroundings and get to modern Earth at the start of the second episode.

The crossover between Craig Charles’ two biggest shows Red Dwarf and Coronation Street was really damn cool, as well.

Ultimately, this isn’t as good as the classic series, as a whole, but as a standalone story, it is one of my favorites. Had it been the final time we saw these guys, as many believed in 2009, it would have been a fine and honorable sendoff.

But I’m pretty happy that we’ve gotten three more seasons after this with more presumably to come.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Anything Red Dwarf.