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'Richard Hammond's Crash Course': The little reality show that did

As we enjoy the brand-new season of Top Gear on Monday nights, it’s impossible not to fall in love with Richard Hammond—the charismatic, high-energy presenter who perfectly compliments the outspoken Jeremy Clarkson and directionally challenged James May. For more than 20 seasons, we’ve watched Richard do crazy car-related things like help build a space shuttle out of a Reliant Robin, play darts with old cars, and have a nun drive a monster truck. But do you remember Richard Hammond’s Crash Course?

Top Gear fans are well aware that Hammond has a soft spot for the United States (enough that his co-presenters refer to him as a “secret American”), but might not have seen his TV love letter to the country’s iconic vehicles and professions. Richard Hammond’s Crash Course aired two seasons on BBC America, from April to December 2012. We find ourselves still missing it today.

If you’re one of those people who think reality TV is full of it, Crash Course was your answer. Its first season dispatched Hammond to locations around the country to learn how to operate some of our biggest machines, from an M1A2 Abrams Tank at Fort Bliss, Texas, to salvage equipment in Louisiana. He had a limited number of days to learn the ins and outs of each vehicle—a real “crash course”—before being tested to discover if he could really do the job in question.

What was in it for the viewers was that we were in the driver’s seat right along with him. We weren’t getting to drive the tank or work on the demolition site, but each episode walked audiences through the culture and history of whatever occupation was the focus that week. Through his conversations with the relevant experts, we understood a little bit more about what it was like to be a soldier, a tree harvester, or the guy driving the world’s most powerful fire engine.

Thanks to Hammond’s previously established ability to simplify vehicular knowledge for an audience, we could follow the technical ins and outs. But it was his affability and sense to ask all the right questions that helped us gain true insight into these worlds. There’s a reason he has presented a seemingly endless series of documentaries for the BBC—he knows how to make everything interesting for any audience.

Then, because this was Richard Hammond, sometimes there were hijinks, like throwing lumberjack darts at a minivan:

Crash Course really hit its stride in the second season, when BBC America broadened its scope to include occupations that didn’t have to involve vehicles. We saw Hammond try his hand at everything from being a New York City cab driver to being a rocket scientist in the Mojave Desert. But because he was out of his vehicular comfort zone, an interesting thing happened: Sometimes he succeeded, and sometimes he failed. In the “American Bullfighter/Paddle Boarder” episode, he found himself advised to stay out of the rodeo ring.

What was already an insightful and informative program also became emotionally moving. We weren’t just learning about new jobs that most of us have never considered; we were taking entire journeys alongside Hammond. When he attempted to become a Hollywood stuntman, not only we were there as he confronted his fear of heights by learning how to professionally fall, but we also experienced his nervousness when it was time for him to practice a car stunt.

Hammond remarked openly about being concerned about the feelings of his wife and daughters—who had, six years earlier, been by his side following a near-fatal dragster crash on the set of Top Gear—as he once again put himself in a potentially dangerous driving situation.

In that sense, Crash Course was as captivating as any scripted series. We felt for Hammond as he faced his fears, We were thrilled when he overcame them—such as his long-held nightmare about being a standup comedian, which he turned out to be pretty good at. We also got to know the people he worked with and their stories.

There was cab driver John McDonagh, who explained just how challenging it is to be a cabbie in one of the world’s biggest cities (just imagine starting almost $200 in the hole every day, before you’ve taken a single fare). In “IndyCar Pit Crew,” Hammond joined the Dragon Racing pit crew at Sonoma Raceway, only to be there when both their race cars were damaged and failed to finish the race. Wherever he went, whatever job he was trying to learn, there were everyday people with wisdom to share. Through Hammond’s outsider’s perspective, we came away with a much more interesting look inside.

Richard Hammond’s Crash Course was never officially canceled, but there haven’t been any new episodes since 2012—and with Hammond’s busy schedule for Top Gear, it’s hard to imagine there ever will be. But if you haven’t seen it, this reality show is very much worth your time. You’ll come away with a greater appreciation of many different professions—thanks to a certain TV presenter who was just crazy enough to try them all.

Richard Hammond’s Crash Course is available on Hulu.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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