TV

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu”

AMERICAN DAD – “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu” (Episode 20, season 14)

Ever since the debut of Rogu earlier this season, American Dad fans have eagerly anticipated his next starring appearance.  This was saved for the season finale, “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu”.  Rogu, if you recall, is Roger’s homunculus, birthed from a tumor.  He has Roger’s ability to disguise himself as anyone he desires, but also has the temperament of a small child.  He needs to be watched and cared for like a child, despite his alien nature.

It’s Rogu’s childlike nature that makes him a perfect candidate for the schemes of Steve Smith.  Steve needs money, so he can afford the curly fries in the school cafeteria instead of the boring old straight kind.  The solution:  babysitting.  Mom doesn’t think he’s ready.  Roger, however, thinks he’s up to the task.  Roger leaves Steve to take care of Rogu, while he does one of his many jobs (a female prostitute).  If Steve does well, his mom will have to admit he’s ready to babysit.

Ominously, taking care of Rogu has three rules (shades of Gremlins):

  1. No candy.
  2. No screen time.
  3. Don’t let Rogu look at the ant farm.  (He won’t chip in for it, so he shouldn’t enjoy it.)

Predictably, within minutes, Rogu’s eaten some licorice.  When he starts barfing up little balls of Rogu that turn into fully-grown Rogus, Steve knows he’s in way over his head.  One turns into three, and three turns into dozens.  It only gets worse when Klaus the goldfish tries to contain the situation by giving the Rogus a little screen time….

Season 14 produced at least three exceptionally good American Dad episodes, and two of them centered around Rogu.  The bizarre alien offspring has quirks (a love of innocent jokes for example) and abilities far different from his father Roger.  American Dad felt rejuvenated this season and Rogu was a key part of that.

If you only watch two episodes this season, make ’em Rogus.

4.5/5 stars

Advertisements

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Stanny Slickers II: The Legend of Ollie’s Gold”

AMERICAN DAD – “Stanny Slickers II: The Legend of Ollie’s Gold” (Episode 15, season 3)

As we review our way through significant American Dad episodes, several outstanding musical numbers emerge.  When it comes to memorable TV tunes, there’s the Simpsons and then there’s American Dad.  A highlight of the earlier seasons was the song “Ollie North”, sung for one of Stan Smith’s heroes, the scandal-ridden Colonel Oliver North.  Done in an after-school-special style, the song is meant to educate!

As a kid I remember a summer of waiting through Oliver North hearings just to watch an episode of The Transformers.

Stan’s tune succinctly summed up the entire scandal.

In the 80s there was Cold War drama,
We fought the Commies inside Nicaragua,
Our friends were the Contras, Freedom was their mantra,
So we sent them lots of money for guns, and landmines.

But Congress stopped the Contra money flow,
Just ’cause they moved a teeny bit of blow.
But then a hero came forth, His name was Oliver North,
He and Reagan went around the sissy Congress.

OLLIE NORTH! OLLIE NORTH!

(Spoken) You see, North secretly sold missiles to a harmless country called Iran who would always be a grateful ally. Then he gave the profits to the Contras. Genius!

But the sales were uncovered by the press,
Reagan and North began to stress,
‘Cause what they did was technically high treason! (But it was totally justified.)

North volunteered to take the blame,
To save Reagan from prison rape shame,
The truth he did bury with his hot secretary,
Thanks to her shredder, he got off totally scot-free!

OLLIE NORTH! OLLIE NORTH!

He’s a soldier!
And a hero!
And a novelist!
And now he’s on Fox News!

But that’s not the story here.  Working for the CIA, Stan Smith has access to information.  He knows that North had a secret cache of gold, and he buried it somewhere on his property. The very house that the Smiths live in today! Ollie North’s gold has long been an obsession for Stan.  He named his first child “Hayley Dreamsmasher” because having kids meant giving up his quest for the gold.  Now, Stan thinks he has decoded secret messages left by North. When Stan begins actively pursuing Ollie’s gold again, the family grows concerned. Then a giant pit mine is dug in their living room.

In a separate storyline, Roger the alien tries to prove that he is sexually harassable.  So he invents two new characters (Laura Vanderbooben and Luke Fondleberg) to make that happen.

Will Stan find Ollie’s gold?  Will Roger win a cash settlement?  It doesn’t matter because that Ollie North song is so damn catchy!

5/5 stars

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Jeff and the Dank Ass Weed Factory” (featuring Snoop Dogg)

AMERICAN DAD – “Jeff and the Dank Ass Weed Factory” (Episode 5, season 14)

With a title like “Jeff and the Dank Ass Weed Factory” , you should know what to expect automatically.  That’s right — this time, American Dad spoofed the Roald Dahl children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and made it totally not for children!

Tommie Tokes (Snoop Dogg) has opened his weed factory to the pubic for the first time!  All you (and a guest) have to do is discover a golden blunt wrap, only four in the world!  But the C.I.A. want in as well.  Director Bullock needs to get his hands on the “Everlasting Edible” in the never-ending war on drugs. Stan Smith is dispatched, the perfect agent for the job.  Stan is notoriously anti-drug.

“Why did the pothead cross the road?  He doesn’t remember!”

Meanwhile his stoner son-in-law Jeff is down in the dumps because Stan considers him a lazy and stupid pothead.  He’d sure like to find one of the golden wraps and take a tour of the fabulous weed factory.  Stores are sold out everywhere, and one by one, the news announces the names of the winners.  First is “Pube Face”, then Larry the Steely Dan fan, and Angie who smokes before every meal.

Jeff almost lights and smokes his own golden blunt wrap before the family stops him!  He is the fourth winner!  And the perfect pawn that Stan needs to get inside the factory and steal the Everlasting Edible.

At the gates of the weed factory, Tommie Tokes suddenly appears!  It’s basically Snoop Dogg dressed as Gene Wilder, because let’s face it, if you needed someone to play a character named Tommie Tokes, Snoop is already that character in real life.  First room on the tour:  the edibles!  As in the original source material, one by one the winners are eliminated.  Pube Face thinks a normal office desk and stapler are edibles, and dies.  And like in the source material, little colourful dwarves appear to sing whenever someone dies.  It’s the Snoopa Loompas!  “Don’t be dumb, and use your eyes, you can’t make weed into office supplies.”

Into the next room, Tommie Tokes unveils a machine that can scan your mind and produce your own personal ideal strain of weed.  Angie wants to try it, but Tommie noticed that Stan didn’t eat anything in the edibles room.  He orders Stan into the scanner.  “If you don’t, I’m gonna think you a Narc.”  Not wanting to blow his cover, Stan is scanned.  His ideal strain?  “C-High-A”.  Angie, however, is not so lucky and gets zapped when she rushes in before the scanner is recharged.  Finally Larry the Steely Dan fan has his face blown off by Tokes’ insane sound system.  Larry, at least, died how he wanted.  But Jeff and Stan have wandered off on their own…one of them with ulterior motives!

“Why did I even have this dumb factory tour?” asks Tokes.  “I had very little to gain from a business perspective!”

Will Stan steal the Everlasting Edible, or will he get too stoned first?

There was no B-story this time, so not much Roger or anyone else.  The best episodes usually involve Roger and his personas.  “The Dank Ass Weed Factory” isn’t a top ten or top twenty episode, but Snoop fans or connoisseurs of weed humour need to check it out.

3.5/5 stars

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Rabbit Ears”

AMERICAN DAD – “Rabbit Ears” (Episode 4, season 14)

It has been an exciting week for American Dad fans, as they devoured one of the weirdest episodes of the entire series, “Rabbit Ears”.  This is a series that did an entire episode in the form of a stage play.  Another was styled like an indi film and featured Zooey Dechanel as an overtly stated “manic pixie dream girl”.  This time, American Dad took off for The Outer Limits and ended up in the Twilight Zone.

There is no hint of the episode’s bizarre setting in the standard opening.  Stan, always up to something stupid, goes garbage picking on “big items” week, when people throw out large appliances.  He brings home a mattress infested with bed bugs and a giant, ancient television.  The Smith family are not amused, especially when Roger steals their attention as his latest persona:  a non-verbal newborn baby.  Then it gets weirder.

Sequestered in the basement with his mattress and television set, Stan sets up the antenna and gets nothing but static.  Then suddenly, Stan is woken from his slumber by the sweet sound of jazz, as a show finally comes in: “Nighthawks Hideaway”.

“Nighthawks Hideaway” intro with Alistair Covax

“Weclome Nighthawks, we’ve been expecting you.  The hour is late but the party is just getting started.  I’m Alistair Covax, your host for a sophistical little soirée with jazz, stimulating conversation, beautiful ladies…and more jazz.”

“What IS this show?” asks Stan.  It’s in black and white and clearly from the 1960s.

“Charlie, play some of those notes you know I like,” says Alistair to the jazz pianist.

Nothing on Google.  No record of the host Alistair Covax (Star Trek‘s Chris Pine) either.  Even TV Guide magazine says the show does never existed…but they know of a support group for people who claim to have seen Nighthawks Hideaway!  A show that does not exist…but multiple people have seen it.  Shades of Shazam/Kazaam!

Investigating the support group, Stan finds only one other attendee:  neighbour Al Tuttle (Richard Kind).

“There used to be more people, but one by one, they stopped coming,” explains Tuttle.

But what about the show?  “There’s only one episode!  And it re-runs over and over and over on channel 36!”

It’s even stranger than that.  “There’s only one episode…but it changes!  Little…differences in the show!  I keep track of them!”

That night, Stan notices something different on Nighthawks Hideaway.  Tuttle is in the show!  Not believeing his eyes, he knows further investigation is required.  Tuttle’s house is empty, but Stan finds his TV and notebook.  Here, Tuttle tracked differences from night to night.  The last page has the ominous note “I MUST GO IN.”

Stan studies the book and tracks the changes, night after night, in the basement on the old TV and finally discovers what happened to Al Tuttle.  And that’s when things get really Twilight Zone, and to go further would get into spoiler territory.

This episode “Rabbit Ears” was a truly fresh spin on a classic science fiction / horror theme.  Perhaps this style of storytelling is coming back into vogue.  There is a rebooted Twilight Zone now, hosted by Jordan Peele.  Regardless of trends, American Dad are still the masters of a specific type of surreal animated comedy.  The show is its own genre now, and “Rabbit Ears” is a clear indicator that its potential remains wide open.  Keep ’em coming.

5/5 stars

 

 

VHS Archives #72: The Best of Don Williams (1985)

Do you love TV ads for old records? Do you enjoy country crooners? Check out this TV spot for The Best of Don Williams!  (“The gentle giant!”)  In stores now!

 

The video tape is actually my dad’s.  The Don Williams ad was recorded when he was taping The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) starring Errol Flynn.  (Also on this tape:  Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) and Last of the Mohicans (1936).)  Finding the Don Williams ad was pure chance.  The reason I have this VHS tape is very special.  When my Grampa Ladano died, we found an old 8mm film in his house.  We converted it to VHS around 1984, at a video store in Stanley Park Mall.  It’s an old film from 1946 and it has my dad, grandfather and grandmother on it.  I never met my grandmother – she died when my dad was a little boy.  So the video tape itself is very special and now my Grampa is digital forever.

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Persona Assistant”

AMERICAN DAD – “Persona Assistant” (Episode 16, season 13)

For fans of Roger the alien, the13th season of American Dad really delivered this time.  It was a special episode:  #250 of the long-running animated series.  The best episodes usually focus on Roger and his many personas.  This instalment was one of them.

We get a glimpse of Roger’s daily life.  He’s busy for an alien.  He has so many personas to live, and only 24 hours in a day.  The workload must be getting to him.  He’s feeling sickly and has a strange lump growing on his ample forehead.

Roger is resistant but the Smith family take him to see Dr. Kalgary, the show’s resident master of the dark sciences.  Kalgary removes the lump, a large tumour, and Roger is sent for rest and rehabilitation.  Taking a jar with his tumour sealed inside, Roger goes on vacation.  So who will handle all his personas while he’s away?

Stan steps up for the recovering Roger, only to find that living the lives of his all personas is hard work!  Of course he mucks it all up.  To his shock, Roger’s personas were so important that their absences causes the city to descend into chaos and anarchy.  When Roger finally returns, he is not alone.  It turns out that his species have a way of handling stress.  That tumour was not a tumour at all, but a little homunculus named Rogu!  With Rogu’s help, Roger can fix the damage that Stan has done.  But not before the return of one of American Dad’s most requested personas:  Ricky Spanish!  The most hated man in town!  Only Rogu can stop him.

When I saw Rogu, I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard.  The same thing happened the next day when I watched again.  For whatever reason, Rogu has tickled my funnybone in a serious way.  Roger has, over time, become almost a normal character.  There’s little he can do that surprises you anymore.  Rogu?  That’s a whole new ballgame.  The show can get even weirder now.  (Rogu is absolutely certain to return, considering an upcoming episode is called “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu“.)

In the second storyline, Steve’s joined the jazz club at school.  Playing on the old stereotype of drugged out jazzbos, Steve takes performance enhancing drugs to take his scat singing to the next level!  The finals are coming, and Steve brings his scatting to the extreme.  Only morphine can stop him.

Fuck yeah, American Dad.  I thought maybe the best years were behind.  Apparently not.  Carry on!

5/5 Rogus

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “My Morning Straitjacket”

AMERICAN DAD! – “My Morning Straitjacket” (Episode 7, season 5)

Has Stan gone too far this time? Daughter Hayley has gone to a rock concert!  According to a furious Stan, rock concerts are “the devil’s music!  It’s the number one cause of school violence, teen pregnancy and leather pants!”  But My Morning Jacket are “awesome” according to Hayley, and she plans on going again the next night, until Stan confiscates the tickets!

Fortunately for Hayley, mom Francine understands rock and roll.  She used to get backstage the hard way, not like today with those sissy radio giveaways.  She secretly returns the tickets to Hayley, infuriating Stan. Using his CIA noise-cancelling earplugs, he goes to the concert to “rescue” his daughter.  “Idiots!  Paying good money to hear something they already heard on a record!”  But when he removes his special earplugs, he hears the music…and finally feels something!  Where Stan used to feel only anger, he now feels everything!

Jim James has an “angelic” voice according to Stan.  “He makes Enya sound like a Russian couple arguing at the bowling alley!”  He can’t get enough.  “I want to hear all their music!  Right now!”  This leads to an unhealthy obsession with the band, accompanied by a smorgasbord of their songs:  “Wordless Chorus”, “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream (Part 2)”, “I’m Amazed”, “Remnants”, “Highly Suspicious”, and “Phone Went West”. The animation for Stan’s musical fantasy sequence is suitably trippy. Stan flies through space carried by owls, with My Morning Jacket singer Jim James riding on his back! As usual for Stan, his obsessive behaviour leads to neglect for his family and job. Something has to be done! The final straw is when Stan spends $900 on a bootleg CD of Jim James gargling in the bathroom before a show.

Stan is under the delusion that he and Jim James are soul mates, so Roger the alien comes up with a plan. Dressed as his groupie persona Abbey Road (“I’m Abbey Road, and when it snows I need to be plowed!”) they go to follow My Morning Jacket and meet Jim James. When they finally encounter James in person, he convinces Stan that he already has a real soul mate — his wife Francine.

The music of My Morning Jacket is diverse and entertaining, and although their softer moments are a bit limp, when they rock they rock. As for this episode? It rocks.

5/5 stars

TV REVIEW: American Dad (featuring Cee-Lo Green) – “Hot Water”

AMERICAN DAD! – “Hot Water” (Episode 1, season 8)

Musical episodes and American Dad go together like blue suits and Stars n’ Stripes lapel pins.  Cee-Lo Green wasn’t the first musician to appear on the show, but he was the first to appear both animated, and live action!*  Cee-Lo hosted the opening episode for Season 8, “Hot Water”.  “My name?  Not important,” he begins.  What matters is this “cautionary tale” that “may affect your next hot tub purchase.”

Hot tubs?  Indeed, Cee-Lo also voices an evil, murderous hot tub.  It sings songs of temptation to Stan Smith, who is becoming obsessed with “soaking” in it.  The tub lulls Stan in with “Dip A Toe”, a light sexy Cee-Lo song urging him in.  A talking hot tub?  “Ain’t nobody got to know…just dip a toe!”  Echoes of the classic Stephen King stories Christine and The Shining are obvious, as the hot tub wants more and more time with Stan.  Even if it means Stan’s family has got to go.  Cee-Lo continues to woo Stan on “Hot Tub of Love” and “Do Whatever You Like”.  Stan begins skipping work, neglecting his family, and throwing hot tub stripper parties.  He sings, “I feel so conflicted, but this is up to me.  On one hand there’s the hot tub, the other’s family.”  Guess what he chooses?

cee-lo-green-2

Scott Grimes, who voices the character of Steve Smith, is quite a talented singer himself.  Steve has songs in countless episodes.  In “Hot Water” he duets with Roger the alien in a Boyz II Men-esque song called “Daddy’s Gone”.  Francine is forced to leave Stan and the family is broken!  The man who sold Stan the hot tub, Marguerite, becomes suspicious and begins doing research on the tub, to the tune of a song called (obviously) “Hot Tub Research”.  Marguerite discovers the truth:  The tub’s original owner put a stripper pole in there that got hit by lightning.  The tub came alive!  It killed its owners when they stopped using it.  It then escaped from a mental institution and was forgotten until Stan bought it.  Can Marguerite stop the hot tub before it kills Stan’s entire family?  The answer may surprise you.

“Hot Water” was only an average American Dad episode for laughs-per-minute.  It is top notch when it comes to music and unorthodox storytelling.  As a premier episode for the 8th season, it had star cameo power and was completely different from any other episode.  That’s a win/win.  Except I don’t feel like hot tubbing any time soon.

3.5/5 stars

*Actress Gabourey Sidibe also appeared live action as herself in the episode “Stanny Tendergrass”.  In this episode, she voices one of the hot tub girls.  And Patrick Stewart, who voices CIA director Avery Bullock, appeared live action as himself in season 9’s “Blood Crieth Unto Heaven”.

TV REVIEW: American Dad (featuring James Hetfield of Metallica) – “The Life Aquatic with Steve Smith”

AMERICAN DAD! – “The Life Aquatic with Steve Smith” (Episode 2, season 12)

American Dad is back!  The 12th (or 13th) season (depending on how you count) commenced last week.  While last week’s instalment was ho-hum, this week’s was a brilliant return to form, thanks in no small part to the mighty metal music of Metallica.

It is spring time.  14 year old Steve Smith has vowed that this year, he will finally get to touch his first real boobs.  His latest scheme is simple.  Varsity athletes seem to touch boobs all the time.  Therefore, Steve needs a varsity jacket.  The water polo team is looking for members, and hardly anyone has signed up.  At tryouts, we meet the coach:  “I’m the new coach, James Hetfield.  I know what you’re thinking.  ‘Woah! The James Hetfield from Metallica?’  The answer is no way.  Even though I look and sound like him, and have all his guitars.  The point is, if I had to deal with the kind of pressure that guy is under, I’d probably crack and end up as a high school water polo coach.  So it’s a good thing that I’m just this very different James Hetfield.”

Unfortunately Steve cannot swim and is cut from the team.  Only when he colludes with the family goldfish Klaus (an East German ski jumper whose brain was transferred into the body of a fish) does he have a chance.   They realize that Steve can become the greatest water polo player in the world, with a little extra help from Klaus.  Klaus operates Steve’s legs by using his short n’ curlies as puppet strings, and Steve is unstoppable!  With his legs being controlled by Klaus, Steve can concentrate on the ball.  Cue:  “Master of Puppets”.  Steve is back on the team!  In fact, he’s the star.

The next musical number is the more recent “All Nightmare Long” (one of the best tunes from Death Magnetic), accompanying a montage scene.  Steve and Klaus’ plan seems to be working, as Steve attracts the attention of Amy (Ashley Tisdale), the school sports editor.  She wants to know what makes Steve so skilled at water polo, and the pressure is on.  James Hetfield orders the team to take the rival highschool “off to neva-neva-land-ah!”

The side plot involves Stan Smith and Roger the alien buying a sailboat at a CIA auction.  Roger’s antics are always hilarious, but the side plot can’t help but remain in the shadow of the main Metallica feature.  Still, Roger’s voice is always hilarious to me, and I crack up when I get to hear Roger calling people “assholes”.  I am easily amused.  The show does benefit from the ability to use mild swearing now.  Roger and Stan realize that owning a boat is kind of useless since they have nowhere to go and no idea how to sail.  They must get rid of it…somehow!

If American Dad can maintain this level of quality, it is bound to be a great season.  It’s also good to know that American Dad is maintaining its strong musical connections, even though showrunner Mike Barker left in 2013.  Barker was responsible for many of the show’s best such moments, such as the My Morning Jacket episode.  Although last season was a little bumpy, this episode might be the best one since Barker left.

5/5 stars

TV REVIEW: Top Gear – Bolivia Special (2009)

“Sticking to the code of the Top Gear brotherhood, I left James and Richard behind.” — Jeremy Clarkson

TOP GEAR – Bolivia Special (2009 BBC, 76 minutes)

I wanted to review an episode of Top Gear that had something to do with music, which isn’t hard since so many rock and pop stars from Ronnie Wood to Ed Sheeran have been on the show.  My favourite recurring Top Gear gag involved tormenting Richard Hammond with Genesis music, whom he despises.  Specially, the song “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” from Selling England by the Pound is frequently played as torture. I chose the Top Gear Bolivia special to review as it is especially funny, breathtaking and interesting through its entire length. I realized though, that the Genesis gag was not used in this special, thus negating any real music connection in this review (aside from James May’s nickname “Ted Nugent”).  So, here is the Genesis track, and I’ll review the episode anyway!

Skip to about 1:30 to hear Hammond’s “favourite” part

The challenge: Each man must purchase a car for less than £3,500, sight unseen, from a local Bolivian website.  They are advised to buy four-wheel-drive vehicles, to take them from a river in the middle of the Amazon, to Chile and the Pacific coast. It is a 1000 mile journey through jungle, desert, and bad roads.  The most dangerous road in the world, in fact — the infamous Death Road.

Jeremy Clarkson chose a Range Rover classic, Richard Hammond a Toyota Land Cruiser, and James May a Suzuki.  They are sent to the start point of the journey by boat, but the cars have not yet arrived.  The three are like fish completely out of water.  James May is not an outdoorsman, Hammond is afraid of insects, and Jeremy is allergic to hard labour.  They are, according to Clarkson, “the three worst explorers in history”, and they have been dumped on a riverbank in the middle of nowhere.

May:  “Since we didn’t know what to do, we sat down, and did nothing.”

The cars are sent to them by barge, with no apparent way to offload them to land.  Immediately it’s obvious that the guys may have bought lemons.  May’s car isn’t in the advertised colour, but worse, has no air in the tires.  Clarkson’s doesn’t have the engine it was advertised to have, leaving him with a less powerful 3.5L.  Hammond’s Toyota has been customized by hand into a convertible!

The Range Rover scores an early victory, when they use it to pull Jeremy out of the mud that he was standing (and sinking) in.  Much to everyone’s delight, the car actually started!  It is the Toyota that fails to start, an embarrassing beginning for the diminutive Hammond.  The following day, they figure out how to get the vehicles off the barge, on the ground, and running more or less properly, but it’s good fun watching them learn by trial and error!  It takes three days of hacking and slashing with machetes through the jungle, just to get to a road.  Clarkson is pleased to have bought “the only 1980’s Range Rover in the world, that works.”  Though he can’t say the same for any of his gauges.

Hammond on the other hand says that he has “bought the only malfunctioning Land Cruiser in the world.”  He has no brakes, and no gauges.  May’s Suzuki is small but sturdy.  Through it all, the three are always entertaining, picking on one another and always looking for an advantage.  They are quick to mock the Range Rover when it is first to break down (a piece of bamboo through the fan, destroying it).  Clarkson will have none of criticism, calling the Range Rover “the hero of the day”, and rightly pointing out that it was the Rover that got the other two off the barge.

Clarkson: “We passed the time by bickering, until the engine cooled down.”

Breaking down, getting stuck, it’s all in a day’s pay for the Top Gear three.  Through it the audience at home gets to see the innards of the Amazon in sparkling hi-def.  The jungle is beautiful, vibrant, and dangerous.  Roads come to sudden ends, rivers appear in the middle of nowhere, and the insects are always biting.  Mishaps are constant.  Clarkson accidentally sets fire to Hammond’s soft top while cutting vents in his own hood to keep his engine cool.

The biggest visual spectacle is the infamous Death Road, on the way to La Paz.  This road, which claims hundreds of lives every year, is best described as a little notch carved into the side of a cliff face.  And it’s the only highway between the Amazon and the major hub of La Paz, which means sometimes cars have to pass each other on this one-lane strip of dirt.  Breathtaking, terrifying…and James May is deathly afraid of heights.

As per usual, the men customize their vehicles, when they finally hit La Paz intact.  They must prepare for a desert journey through one of the driest places on earth — where it has never rained, and nothing can survive.  (“Richard Hammond was the smallest living organism for miles.” — Clarkson.) For desert traction, Clarkson and Hammond raise their vehicles and install larger tires, but this does not turn out to be the advantage they hoped for.  May, meanwhile just repaired his car (a faulty alternator) rather than change it.  But they can’t handle the lack of oxygen at 16,000 feet above sea level and are forced to turn back, and take a longer route to the Pan-America highway.  The Toyota suffers numerous breakdowns, while the Range Rover, “the world’s most unreliable car,” is the most reliable.  As for the challenge, it remains gripping right to the end.  It could have been anyone’s race.

In the end, I think Jeremy Clarkson said it best:

“It is incredible to think that these cheap cars, bought unseen on the internet, had crossed the Amazon rainforest. They’d scaled the most dangerous road in the world, and they’d still been working when their drivers had broken down in the Andes.”

5/5 stars