UNSCRIPTED SERIES "Richard Hammond's Crash Course"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Monday night at 10 on BBC America

REASON TO WATCH Wish fulfillment to the extreme -- drive an Army tank this week, run giant tree-felling machines next week.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The U.K. "Top Gear" wag gets his giddy on, going from driving cool cars to running them over into rubble, employing even bigger vehicles in this original series made here by BBC America (not the U.K. folks).

Did we say "big"? Yup, this might as well be "Big Gear," as Hammond gets the title training for three days on various "monsters of the work site."

They're "complex and dangerous machines," as he cautions in the weekly show intro -- in other words, manna for the gear heads who've turned his U.K. original into a long-running cash cow. (The "Crash Course" premiere follows Monday night's two-hour "Top Gear" 17th-season return from India, which follows 8 a.m.'s 12-hour series marathon.)

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Hammond gets ever more effusive, and childlike, at El Paso's Fort Bliss, mastering the jobs of an Abrams M1A tank. "We're only doing 12 miles an hour, it feels like 120!" he squeals, just before doing "unbelievably good and unspeakably bad" things to some classic cars. Then it's on to firing the tank's .50-caliber machine gun and 120-mm cannon. And even acting as tank commander, for a simulated battle scenario out on the range, where he needs to hit 11 of 12 targets to pass his "final exam."

MY SAY The show's course structure might sound too cute, but it's utterly cool having Hammond get his groove on, whether with tanks or next week's dangle head processor in an Oregon logging course. It's even fun to watch him climb 53 feet up a tree -- and to imagine yourself in his shoes (with spurs, of course).

The editing, and Hammond's naked reactions, make his attempts at each task nail-biting, though producers might go a little lighter on the "dramatic" music that sometimes runs over his patter like, well, a tank.

BOTTOM LINE Top-notch, bigger gear.

GRADE A-