I have been watching a lot of Top Gear lately. (I can't help it--it's perfect television. It's entertaining and doesn't require you to use your brain at all. And sometimes things catch fire.) What has been interesting is to see the evolution of the show, as I've been watching it in order from series 2. In the first few series, it is mostly reviews of cars. Witty, sardonic reviews, but reviews nonetheless. About the only time the presenters got into arguments was when they were evaluating three different cars in the same class, but even these segments were more car reviews than arguments, and the arguments usually ended with a drag race.
As the show wears on, though, they clearly develop stage personas. Jeremy Clarkson becomes the uber-macho idiot, who never thinks things through or plans ahead and faces all problems by yelling or smashing things with hammers. James May becomes the stuffy one, who overthinks everything and bores people with his explanations, then still fails. Richard Hammond becomes the scrappy one, the butt of continual jokes about his vanity and his stature. And these personality traits were always evident, but they become notably more pronounced. All three have clearly made the decision to play into the archetypes and always, always come into conflict with each other (because that's entertaining).( More discussion of Top Gear than you ever wanted )
I don't know, though, if I'd rather believe that it's all fake (like the laughing on Car Talk) or that it's all real. If it's fake, that takes away a lot of the humor, because you want to believe in the earnestness of their efforts. But, like with Garrison Keillor, it's hard to believe such succesful amateurishness could be anything but deliberate. But if it's all real--than they really are being remarkably, dangerously stupid much of the time.
One last note--as I discussed with jethrien
, these guys really are dicks. I mean, look at the episode where they drive from Miami to New Orleans, where they paint each other's cars in slogans to try to get them beaten up. And someone does try to beat them up. Not because the slogans are offensive, per se, but because the idea that these three British fops have made a bet over getting locals to beat them up is offensive. (And going back to the earlier point--I don't know if I believe that encounter. Or, if it was real, how many gas stations did they go to without incident before that one?)
But they are foreign dicks. Their douchebaggery is of a different sort that I meet on the subway or that hits on me. So I can be amused by them where I don't think I'd be at all amused watching Americans pull similar stunts. Occasionally they do cross that line into familiar douchebaggery, though, and very suddenly stop being funny. Like, in that same episode, when they are so moved by the destruction of New Orleans that they donate the piece of shit cars they've been sabotaging and putting rotting cow in for a few hundreds of miles to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Yes, thank you so much for being so generous to the deserving poor of New Orleans. And when the people you're making a donation to get pissed at the quality of it, that's all good fun, right? *glares*