Oh sure, British television benefits from the cool accents, unflappable demeanors, and the top sportscasters in the world, but it goes deeper than that. The Brits just know good TV. They pick up all the good American programs like Letterman and Buffy and produce some of the most intriguing shows around.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire started in the UK and, unlike its watered-down, everyone's-a-winner American cousin, it's actually tough to win the jackpot over there. Noblemen who miss a question below the 25,000 pound level are demoted to peasants and anyone who misses the 100 pounder is taken outside and shot.
Yet for the true measure of just how superior the British television folk are to the Yanks who produce drivel like Oh Grow Up just take a look at Junkyard Wars, an English import that airs Wednesday nights on The Learning Channel.
The coolest series to hit basic cable since South Park, Junkyard Wars looks like it was pulled straight out of a Tim Allen wet dream. Two teams of four people each are dropped in the middle of a huge scrap heap and given enough tools to build a 747. Which they just might have to do, since Junkyard Wars is a game show like no other. The teams are given 10 hours to build some complex object out of scratch, using nothing but what they find in the heap.
There's nothing like it on American TV. One recent show featured a team of bikers versus some Royal Navy officers. It didn't take long for the episode to hook viewers: the bikers were named Bowser, Babs, and Lurch.
Forget beautiful people, what I want on television is a biker gang with names out of a Raymond Chandler novel.
The bikers' team was named The Bodgers, "bodger" being one of the many British words that sound great but have no meaning to us heathen colonials. The Bodgers' opponents were The Navy Blues, Royal Navy engineering officers that figured to be in good shape for the contest considering the goal was to build an amphibious vehicle. In order to claim victory, the contraption had to carry the entire team and win a race over a course that started on land, wound through a small lake and ended up back in the dirt.
There is a famous acronym in military circles: KISS. It stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid and is the guiding principle for many of history's greatest battlefield victories.
It's a good thing Britain hasn't fought a war in a while.
The Navy Blues decided to build a boat with wheels, which would move via an airplane propeller, much like those fan boats used by inbred banjo players to traverse the Everglades. To power the propeller, they'd use one of the numerous junkyard engines available in the scrap heap. The engine they chose was a very un-KISS-like fuel-injected Ford that was powerful but hard to remove from its car.
In their Neanderthal zest to get at the motor, The Blues ended up destroying the electronic black box that controlled the engine. It wasn't until four hours before deadline that they realized they couldn't fix it.
With time running out, the team managed to locate another power plant, get it working and mount it on the frame they had constructed inside the hull. The only problem was that none of them bothered measuring the new motor. Had they done so, they would have realized it was way too small for their propeller, which would now spend half of its spin underwater.
There wasn't enough time to remount the engine so the Navy Blues had no choice but to cut each blade of their propeller in half. It was now so small it would have trouble powering a propeller beanie, let alone an amphibious vehicle with four passengers. Not only was the vehicle underpowered, the whole misadventure had taken so long the team had no time to devote to other considerations. You know, minor stuff. Like steering.
Let me remind you, these are the people in charge of Britain's nuclear submarines.
The civilian Bodgers, on the other hand, stuck to the KISS philosophy like career soldiers. Or like career soldiers are supposed to. There was no fooling around with propellers or fuel-injected engines for the Bodgers. No sir, their plan was the very essence of KISS:
Step 1: Find a Land Rover.
Step 2: Tie oil drums to it.
The race was over two seconds after it started. The Bodgers' Land Rover floated precariously but had no trouble moving forward. They sprinted through the course and broke the tape in fine form.
The Navy Blues, on the other hand, were lucky the race started on the down-sloped bank of the lake or they'd never have made it into the water. Not that they were much better off in the lake. The weakened propeller couldn't have blown out the candles on a birthday cake and once they finally did build up a little momentum, their total lack of steering doomed them to circling aimlessly, drifting and helpless, much like UPN before WWF Smackdown. They would have done a lot better just swimming across holding skateboards.
Later that night, two different teams competed in a cannon-building contest. Yes, that's right, a cannon. Try something like that in the States and you'd have Rosie O'Donnell handcuffing herself to a tree. Yet in Britain, not only do television shows feature demonstrations on how to build a working, large-bore, high-velocity projectile weapon, the producers distribute military-grade explosives to contestants like they're handing out Pop Rocks. England is so cool.
Once again, a military team took on a bunch of civilians, and this time it wasn't even down-and-dirty bikers but pansy-ass chemical engineers. What do desk jockey chemical engineers know about cannons? Who better to build a weapon big enough to take down Al Roker than a team of hardcore, kill-'em-all-and-let-God-sort-'em-out Army officers?
Well, pansy-ass chemical engineers, apparently. Is was a different tune, but the same song as before: the chemists stuck to the KISS principle, the Army guys did not.
The result? The biggest laugh of this past television season. In two out of the three firings, the Army's projectile got stuck inside the cannon. Instead of whistling their finely-machined, highly-lethal projectile 200 yards down the battlefield, the detonation blasted the entire barrel all of about four feet downrange.
Wile E. Coyote couldn't have done it any better himself. You can just imagine Saddam Hussein, surely a regular TLC viewer, hurling his passion fruit daiquiri at the TV and screaming: "I got beat by these losers?"
So maybe the Royal Military isn't all that great at designing, building and operating machines of war. How about we make a deal? You British keep sending us quality television and we'll keep saving your ass once the shooting starts.
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