Hammond, Bauer and the kids

A cause for celebration as Top Gear is back!(Unless you’re one of those namby-pambies who like trees or clean air…)

Of course, there was no getting away without mentioning THAT accident, which, as Jeremy Clarkson put it, has turned Richard Hammond into a sort of new Princess Diana. So on Hammond bounded, down a set of aeroplane steps apparently borrowed from easyjet, bashing his face into the feathered headdresses of the sequinned showgirls lining the stairs.

There followed about ten minutes of blokish banter along the lines of “So, are you now… a mental?” before it was back to business as usual. In no time at all, the boys were attempting to resurface a road in 24 hours, in a report clearly filmed last summer. It was hard to say what was more amusingly offensive, the “24” style split screen or Clarkson’s repeated motivational quotes from Adolf Hitler. Even James May chimed in, urging Jeremy on with the memorable “Work will set you free” as immortalised on the gates of Auschwitz.

I can understand why people object to Top Gear. In addition to its wilful political incorrectness, it doesn’t really function as a motoring journal, more a kind of Hunter Thompson-esque Jackass with motor vehicles. But it’s hard to get away from the fact that the old Top Gear, which really was a proper motoring review show, was cancelled because no-one was watching it. By contrast, the new Top Gear is wildly popular even with people who aren’t really interested in cars, both here and abroad. This is because it’s actually rather entertaining to watch, as Clarkson put it, “three grown men cocking about”. As the boys yawned their way through the obligatory health and safety lecture before declaring it an utter waste of time, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s good to have them back.

Elswehere, some not quite grown men were cocking about in a more literal sense. The first episode of E4’s deliberately controversial teenage drama Skins beat its skinny chest to loudly proclaim that this, in fact, is what Britain’s teenagers get up to. This, it seems, is getting drunk, doing drugs, and having sex (or in some cases, not). In a lot of ways that didn’t seem to be too wide of the mark, and it was refreshing to portray such behaviour without judging it.

Lead character Tony, played by the very easy on the eye Nicholas Hoult, is perhaps rather too cocksure and arrogant to be likeable or believable. Still, I have to say I remember boys like him at school who were impossibly good looking and confident. I just used to tell myself that deep down they were as crap and insecure as I was, and certainly as his byzantine plot to get his geeky mate laid came gradually unravelled, he did start to seem more enjoyably fallible. I rather hope that as the series progresses he’ll find more and more things going wrong for him. Schadenfreud? Oh yes.

Said geeky mate, the lovable Sid, is encountered early on in bed, wanking to the rather implausibly titled “Asian Fanny Fun”. Still, if I remember rightly, one of the things teenage boys do is masturbate a lot, so it made a change to see this on screen. It never seems to happen in Hollyoaks. Sid also got the subplot which gave me pangs of sweaty-palmed nostalgia as he ventured into the house of a frankly terrifying Scouse drug dealer who had the balls to carry off an utterly ridiculous handlebar moustache. This character was named Mad Twatter, and yes, I really did know a few dealers who might style themselves thus.

The other characters embody other teenage generalisations that the show can use to shock us by their unruly behaviour.Michelle is Tony’s female equivalent, so obviously goes out with him, oblivious to the torch held for her by the rather cute Sid. Drugged up party animal Chris shags anything and flirts with his teachers. Mental girl Cassie has a history of eating disorders and suicide attempts and talks like Drusilla out of Buffy. Anwar is a teen Muslim who’d rather go out partying than pray to Mecca. And there’s the obligatory gay one, Maxie, who loses stereotype points for being into showtunes and tap dancing.

None of this seems out of the ordinary to me, though my mates and I were a couple of years older before turning quite so mad. Stealing a Mercedes then crashing it into the canal seemed perhaps a little OTT, but when you start out outrageous OTT is the only place to go. With some decent writing and fun cameos by the likes of Harry Enfield, Neil Morrissey and Danny Dyer, this is a Larry Clark-lite bit of exploitive fluff which I look forward to seeing the rest of, like Hollyoaks with swearing.

In the Hollyoaks that doesn’t have swearing, tormented John Paul finally admitted his feelings for best mate Craig.
“When I’m with you, my heart just feels like it’s going to burst!”
This and other romantic declarations visibly startled Craig, who had perhaps not noticed the camera direction’s subtle hints that this was where John Paul was going from the very start. Having been introduced with a series of meaningful, furtive glances at Craig some months ago, I was fairly surprised to see that it took them this long to get on with it. But then, this is Hollyoaks, a show which managed to drag out its bizarrely funny serial killer storyline for something like three years.

Elsewhere in the world, Jack Bauer was back at CTU and having another somewhat stressful day in season 6 of 24. No sooner had Jack been handed back by the Chinese with his laughable huge beard and post traumatic stress, than he was plunged back into an insanely action packed plot about yet another set of Muslim extremists with a grudge against the good old US of A. Pausing only for a lightning quick shave and haircut, Jack was straight off on a trail which led to Hollywood’s rent-an-Arab of the moment, former Deep Space 9 doctor Alexander Siddig. But wait, what’s this? He’s the good guy and the other Arab’s the bad guy? It’s still only episode two!

Elsewhere, in an attempt to retain a popular character, martyred President David Palmer’s little brother Wayne had followed him into office. Kudos to DB Woodside, an actor I like, for being very earnest, but he can’t disguise the fact that he looks at least two decades too young to be a President. Still, 24 exists in a fantasy USA where the electorate have now voted in two black Presidents, so maybe one under 35 isn’t that weird.

Chasing around with Siddig, Jack is full of angst. ” I don’t know if I can do this any more,” he emotes, shooting his colleague for threatening their Arab ally. But there’s no time for Kiefer Sutherland’s particular brand of reflection, as a mini nuke explodes on the outskirts of LA. Doubtless more action next time, as we discover that Jack’s entire family are the real bad guys… What do you mean,”implausible”?