"Jay Leno's Garage" is effectively Jay Leno's return to TV -- albeit on wheels. Here, Leno indulges his passion and life's love. A review:
THE SHOW: "Jay Leno's Garage," CNBC, 10
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Jay Leno returns to NBC -- or CNBC -- in this eight-part series about cars. Per the show notes, "Each one- hour episode features a mix of stunts, challenges, reviews and celebrity interviews that showcase the colorful history of the automobile." Of said stunts, tonight he drag-races with Tim Allen; test-drives a new 'vette with racing champion Jimmie Johnson; visits with Erica Enders-Stevens, the first woman to win the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Pro Stock Division championship (in 2014) and..drives (fast) one of her junior dragsters...He also pays a visit to GM design chief Ed Welburn.
A version of this series has long been on the web.
MY SAY: "Jay Leno returns to NBC..." How many times have we read those words? How many times have I written them? But this time it's different -- radically so. First of all, it's CNBC.
Second, this is not late night or even comedy (though plenty of one-liners; Jay can't resist). Instead, it's something Leno was always supremely well-suited for... All rubber and gears and the roar of engines, Jay Leno is in his element here -- surrounded by and immersed in the one thing he loves beyond all reason and rationale. He is a motor head, through and through. There's no faking that.
Think of "Garage" as an adrenalized version of "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," without the coffee, comedians or Seinfeld. Leno too is a car obsessive, but Seinfeld sometimes uses his cars as both icebreaker and punchline -- in some instances, his exotic "what were they thinking?" means of transportation almost write their own punchlines.
Leno has little interest in the Edsels of years past: Cars for him aren't objects of scorn but objects of reverence. Tonight's opener is about muscle cars -- a cultural obsession from the early '60s, through the early '70s. For him, it's a good starting point because his first car (driven here) was a Mustang Shelby GT 350. He knows the appeal, esteems the design flourishes and, above all, understands that once upon a time -- before there were computers, and emissions standards, and unleaded gas, or even seat belts -- these beautiful, noisy old road hogs were indisputably an aesthetic triumph.
Then the show makes a wrong turn: The brand-new product extensions of these classics are rolled out and the show leaves the sour impression that it was all just a ruse to get viewers into some showroom, to kick the tires of these eminently civilized and thoroughly modern and hugely expensive new versions.
(A very rarefied showroom, perhaps. One doesn't actually see these newbie extensions out on the road -- they're too expensive, and are themselves hobbyist cars. But a hobby for well-endowed hobbyists...)
Per Jay, "These new cars are faster, safer and pollute less than anything back in the day."
A shame, because by comparison with the classics, the new models look like shiny tin cans.