When I was watching the splendid Just William recently, it occurred to me that the Outlaws, strutting along, chests stuck out with the bravado of the young buck, mouths bigger than their short trousers, blagging and boasting about being bigger and cleverer than they actually are, reminded me of a youthful version of the Top Gear presenters. That vision of masculinity for the twenty-first century: Clarkson, Hammond and May.
Now Top Gear was not a programme that crossed my mental path very often. Before I had a son, that is. Now I get the full gamut of things I’d almost certainly never have thought of watching – Top Gear, Richard Hammond’s Blast Lab, James May’s Toy Stories - and Total Wipeout.
My son adores all the Top Gear presenters, and refers to them by their first names, as if they were his mates. Actually, despite the many appalling, reprehensible things about Top Gear, (petrolhead politics, casual sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, cultural insensitivity), I do quite enjoy it. It’s frequently offensive, but can also be funny.
And Toy Stories, the series where James May revisited classic toys of his youth, such as Lego, Meccano and Hornby trainsets, with a crazy projects involving tons of volunteer help, can be fascinating, if at times slightly painful viewing, since May’s ‘delegation’ of tasks seemed to involve leaving a lot of young people doing all the hard work. The glorious lunacy of the Plasticine Show Garden made for the Chelsea Flower show by a raft of volunteers, of all ages and ethnicities, almost had me in tears.
But it’s Richard Hammond who is ubiquitous, presenting a ridiculously large number of children’s shows. And my son’s favourite, the Endemol-produced Total Wipeout, returns for a new series starting Saturday, 6pm. Primetime family viewing. There’ll be no escape. The format is that presenters Hammond and the beautiful, but merciless, Amanda Byram, watch various men and women boast of their athletic talent and sporting prowess, before mocking them trying to navigate the seriously difficult, water-based obstacle course in Buenos Aires (no, I have no idea why it’s held there either). So you see pride coming before a series of, frankly nasty, falls. Off floating mats into cold water, ‘punched’ until flat on their faces in mud, bouncing off giant red balls like rag dolls. It’s like an elongated, sadistic It’s a Knockout course, with the Jokers being the two people staying dry and doing sarcastic voiceovers.
I’m sure there must be multiple injuries. I guess contestants have to sign a waiver beforehand. If anyone reading this is insane enough to fancy their chances for the £10,000 prize in a future series by the way, you can find the entry form here. The ‘lucky’ three who get through the various early knockout stages then face the final, hideous ordeal of the Total Wipeout Zone, which is a really hard water-based assault course. I guess some people might regard it as ‘fun’, but I’d have to question their sanity. It makes my son scream with laughter. Maybe for him it’s like watching a computer game, with real people.
Posted by Inkface