Richard Hammond is probably out of his mind, but, if so, TV viewers are the beneficiaries of his insanity in the BBC America reality series Richard Hammond’s Crash Course, returning for its second season on Monday.
Actually, if this is “reality,” call my insurance agent.
Hammond is one of the hosts of the BBC hit Top Gear, where he’s known as “The Hamster.” He’s always been a daredevil on that show and, in fact, was severely injured while driving a jet-powered car for a 2006 episode.
Apparently not content to endanger life and limb only by driving vehicles, Hammond has branched out with Crash Course, which is not just about him putting himself through a variety of grueling physical tests, but also a way of exploring jobs that, in a way, define American culture.
Monday’s season premiere finds Hammond making a promo for his own show. Sounds fairly straightforward, right? Well, Hammond shows you what it takes to be a Hollywood stunt man, getting training from experts on how to fall from great heights, get thrown through a window, be set on fire and flip a car, all without killing yourself.
He is astoundingly fearless through most of his training, except when it comes to falling: As he confesses in the show, he’s afraid of heights.
Still, after a relatively short tumble of a couple of feet, he graduates to a swan dive off a bridge and onto a huge inflated pillow. The thing looks big and soft, but if you fall the wrong way, you can get seriously hurt, says stuntman Brett A. Jones.
We follow Hammond through four days of training in various stunts, including the all-time classic of American film, the fake punch. (A correct one involves timing and distance, not only by the punch thrower, but by the receiver as well.)
Although the episode’s grand finale is the car flip in the Los Angeles River, the scariest stunt is Hammond getting slathered with fire-retardant goo, donning several layers of clothes which have been dunked in the same stuff, and then lit on fire.
The preparation is more telling than the actual Hammond Flambé. The fact that virtually every nook and cranny of his body is filled, and every inch of skin covered with the protective goop, tells us in no uncertain terms: Don’t try this at home.
No worries there. We won’t have to, as long as we have Hammond trying it on TV for us.