Recently, I read a great book. Titled “And on That Bombshell,” the book is by the “Top Gear”‘s script editor, Richard Porter (and while my Kindle copy has the subtitle “Behind the Scenes at ‘Top Gear,’ apparently Amazon now sells it with the subtitle “Inside the Madness and Genius of ‘Top Gear'”). Porter is clearly a smart, funny man who has written a smart, funny book about a smart, funny TV show. And here’s the thing – the book, like the show, ends horrifically and leaves me at a loss.
Well, I say horrifically so you’ll keep reading. The truth is that the book ends in disappointing fashion and does so because the series ended horrifically.
Go back, search your memory. After a series of ever-increasing missteps by Jeremy Clarkson, he eventually punched one of the folks working on the show. The BBC dismissed Clarkson. Richard Hammond and James May—in a show of solidarity—chose to not continue without their co-host, and it all just went away (naturally, they’re all working on a show for Amazon now).
This could be a case of me expecting something that the book was never in a position to deliver – a satisfying explanation of what happened that led to Clarkson taking a swing at a member of the production team. Porter doesn’t excuse Clarkson in any way and seems, in fact, to believe that the apology Clarkson gave in the office to everyone after the incident was rather weak (“half-hearted and feeble” are his choice of words), but there’s no great explanation of why Clarkson did what he did. Not that one necessarily exists.
Not that one necessarily exists.
That really is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Human beings regularly do dumb stuff. Stuff they shouldn’t do, and sometimes stuff that is not forgivable and should not be forgiven. That is what I’m wondering about at this point.
Porter doesn’t seem to agree with those who signed the petition to reinstate Clarkson. He writes that it was, “eagerly signed by people who thought it was okay for a colleague to smack you in the mouth as long as some strangers reckoned he was a good bloke.” He instead apparently sides with the BBC and their punishment, or at least doesn’t disagree with them, writing, “And anyway, what else were the Beeb going to do.”
Still, the book lacks a satisfying close because the show lacks a satisfying close because life lacks a satisfying close. We are regularly taught by movies and television and books (yes, books!) to expect an ending before the curtain goes down, to expect that all—or most—things will be made clear before the final curtain. Life just doesn’t work that way.
It would be great if Porter could write, “And, after XX series and YY episodes over the course of which ‘Top Gear’ went to ZZ countries and tooled about in AA cars, everyone decided that the show had run its course and decided to move onto other things.” But, that’s not how it happened and so that’s not what we get.
When one stops to consider it, it’s actually almost fitting that “Top Gear” ended its shows with its whole “And on that bombshell” thing, because that’s how it ended its life.
All of that leads me back to something I said earlier. I think the real question to which I would like an answer now is whether or not I should watch the new Amazon series. I loved “Top Gear.” I wrote about it regularly for quite a while, expressing great admiration for the hosts and those working on it. It was beautifully shot, well put together, and full of great moments. But, how much does reality impinge upon my watching a reality show?
Watching the new series is, as I see it, tantamount to forgiving Clarkson. It is the same as being one of those people who signed the petition asking for his reinstatement. “No, no, it’s okay that this guy punched someone, he’s funny and likes cars.”
It isn’t my place to forgive him. For that matter though, it isn’t my place to condemn him.
Is it wrong to want someone to step in and tell me what I should do, because let me tell you, that would be fantastic. Of course, that is, once again, asking for a nice pat conclusion to an episode in life and it just doesn’t exist.
Still, read Porter’s book. I love it.
photo credit: Orion Publishing Group