Man-made unevenness

Written by

Andrew Millar


March 22, 2009

I’m not sure about the whole issue of franchising. I mean, if one person has a good idea… starts an enterprise and makes it successful… that does not mean any Tom, Dick or Stig can simply pick it up and make it work.

And yes I’m talking about Top Gear.

The British program has achieved world fame with wit, sarcasm, cheekiness and a few dented fenders. It works so beautifully well because the English know how to humbly laugh at themselves. But it appears that this wonderful self deprecation doesn’t translate easily to other languages.

American Top Gear has just be cancelled without going to air. The Yanks it appears take themselves too seriously to be witty. Perhaps it just needed a canned laugh track.

Australian Top Gear should be cancelled. We simply can’t take anything seriously enough. And besides, how many times can you test drive the Monaro?

But the jury remains completely undecided about Russian Top Gear. I’ve just seen the first episode and found it absolutely hilarious. But for the wrong reasons. It looks like a parody rather than a serious attempt at a franchise. Now, granted, to the proletariat in Russia it might be a change from the nightly run of political broadcasts and reruns of ‘I love standing in queues.’ or ‘Let’s play corruption’.

Maybe they are ready for a little capitalist car talk.

This was a typical ‘first program’. Firstly, the three presenters drove each others cars – a very old Mazda MX5 with no shock absorbers and tires made from recycled turnips… a 1985 bilious yellow Porsche … and finally a very new, possibly Mafia funded Range Rover which prompted comments like “You need a car like dat, you’re village has no roads.” and “It looks like your grandma’s garden shed on wheels”

So the deprecating wit was there, and of course the tame racing driver… Stigushka. “Some say he has sump oil for blood. Others say his eyes water window washing fluid” Eh?

And of course there is the ‘Star in the Medium Priced Car. Well, not so much a car as a Lada. And this bit was really funny. They invited 6 guests to their secret track for kebabs and samovar. Of the 6 that turned up, three could not drive at all, the first hit a tire barrier on his first lap and one was a fiercely over-weight Russian politician who had never been in a Russian built car before and kept telling the Stigushka to slow down because ‘Motherland built cars are unreliable’.

And then there was a challenge… a race across St Petersburg between a Porsche and a speedboat – and both parties were stopped by police for no real reason. And both were allowed to suspiciously continue without hinderance. You could almost detect the point in filming when a little money changed hands. The Porsche driver commenting on how he was surprised that the GIA (Gosudarstvennya Avtomobilnaya Inspektsyya) had not asked to see the car’s ownership papers. In comparison to the the British Top Gear challenges, this race didn’t bend the laws, it twisted them into an unrecognisable lump and all but banished them to a Gulag in Siberia. And at the challenges’ conclusion, you can clearly see people running to get out of the way of the excessively speeding car, while the boat stands off the wharf waiting for it’s arrival.

But the funniest thing, of course, is the translated subtitles. When asked what a particular road sign meant, Instead of speed hump, the translation came up as ‘man-made unevenness’. And this from a fashion designer, which translated as ‘needle woman’.

Quite clearly, certain things don’t translate very well at all. The word ‘franchise’ doesn’t. Parody yes. Franchise no.