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'Top Gear' hosts call 'dad's car' episode emotional

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"Top Gear" Season 30 starts Sunday. Photo courtesy of BBC America
"Top Gear" Season 30 starts Sunday. Photo courtesy of BBC America

NEW YORK, April 25 (UPI) -- An unusually heartfelt episode of the popular British docu-series, Top Gear, will feature hosts Freddie Flintoff, Chris Harris and Paddy McGuinness reminiscing about their youth as they drive the cars their fathers had when they were kids in the 1970s and '80s.

"We do a lot of mad stuff on Top Gear. So, it was nice to rein that a little bit back in and be a bit honest with each other and talk about stuff and show a little bit of emotion. It will be interesting to see how the viewers respond to something like that," McGuinness told reporters in a recent Zoom interview.

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"It was amazing getting into them cars and sitting there and looking around at the dashboard with all of the dials and, all of a sudden, everything starts flooding back from your childhood -- all them hours spent in the car," Flintoff said.

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Remembering how his father drove him to cricket matches all over the country when he was a boy made Flintoff reflect on where he is today.

"You flip it on its head. I'm driving. I'm a dad now and I'm questioning meself as a dad and trying to figure out, am I doing the right thing? So, it was emotional and then, obviously, we lower the tone by sticking my ass in Paddy's face when I sat on his knee [while McGuinness drove during a challenge]," Flintoff laughed.

"Top Gear has been and is many things, but films like that make you realize it's actually a very simple product," Harris said.

"It's about how human beings interact with motor cars and why these weird, mechanical objects somehow elicit such emotional responses from human beings and why we have opinions and why they cause arguments."

Harris wasn't "massively comfortable" when first asked to unpack his childhood on screen, but he did it because he thought people would relate to the experience, understanding how many memories of family trips and important discussions can be tied to the vehicles in which they took place.

"When you are there, presented with this thing that makes you remember such pungent memories, you can't really avoid it," he said.

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Top Gear began in 2002 and was hosted for most of its life by Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, who exited together in 2015.

Since then, numerous hosts have come and gone, with Harris, McGuinness and Flintoff permanently taking over in 2019 for Season 27.

Season 30, the trio's fourth together, kicks off Sunday on BBC America and AMC+. In the four new episodes, the guys compete in challenges, enjoy a road trip in the Scottish Highlands and pilot some of the iconic vehicles from the James Bond film franchise.

Filming during the coronavirus pandemic, the stars stayed together in a protective bubble, filming separately in their own vehicles when appropriate and kept their adventures in the United Kingdom instead of traveling abroad.

"You feel fortunate that you can work when everyone else is at home, and we've got the chance to spend time with each other, drive cars, have some fun. You have a newfound appreciation for what you do," Flintoff said.

Harris was amazed by how much the Top Gear team was able to accomplish during a time when many film and TV productions were shut down.

"The producers had to come up with a couple of novel treatments to take us out of our comfort zone," he said.

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"One of them involves being towed behind the car [and] wearing a pair of titanium soled boots at speeds we never ever want to achieve again," he added. "We've got a great spread of cars and us lot having fun. That's the core of the show."

While some audience members surely tune in for the fast cars and unique challenge courses, much of the show's massive success can be attributed to its hosts' natural chemistry.

"We don't act when we're on. We are who we are," McGuinness said.

"Our personalities are different, but, then again, they are very similar, so I think viewers like it when they know you are being yourself and we definitely are. If we lose a race, we hate it. If we win, we really go over the top with our celebrations and we have a good time together."

Although Top Gear is a family show with legions of fans spanning generations, the hosts don't regularly screen episodes at home with their loved ones.

"It's tricky, that," Harris said.

"My youngest boy, who is 10, sometimes I'll watch with him, but not the others. There's a terrible self-consciousness about television, where you can't stand the sound of your own voice. Also, you've been through the process. You're not watching it afresh."

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Harris emphasized he is proud of the show and his work on it. He enjoys watching segments that focus on his co-stars.

"I won't watch mine. When it's on, I'd rather be anywhere than in front of a television. I just cringe whenever I see myself on television," Harris said.

Flintoff's family loves the show, but he won't watch it with them, either.

"I hear the music come on and they're all [sitting] there," he said. "I'm popping my head around the door, seeing if they are enjoying it.

"My kids just expect me to embarrass myself, as well. They are at an age now where all their mates watch it and, when they go to school, people are talking about it. I don't want to let them down more than anything!"

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