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Series / James May's Man Lab

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"Hello, and welcome to Man Lab, where the callused hand of the reconstructed male tugs resolutely at the starting handle of the chainsaw of achievement."

James May is a man on a mission.

Tired of seeing men portrayed as bumbling and useless, and fearful that mankind is losing the skills that made it so great in the first place, the Top Gear host takes on several varied tasks each episode, demonstrating everything from simple but useful skills to creative solutions for everyday problems to just plain odd ideas. Creating with hand tools, social skills, and eccentric inventions are all tackled with equal enthusiasm and occasional confusion. Sometimes, there is great triumph, while other times there is the indignity of defeat. Often, there is hilarity, and there's even the chance you might actually learn something.

The show debuted in October 2010 and has had three short series, plus a Christmas Episode.

This show provides examples of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: In order to ensure those in the back row at Abingdon receive buns, Simmy comes up with not one but three bun-firing devices: the Hot-Crossbow, the Bun-Derbuss, and the Machine Bun.
  • Artifact Title: Man Lab was originally the working title for the show, but somehow stuck. James has lamented this in interviews and on his Twitter, believing it too male-centric and a poor reflection of the actual premise. He often mentions a better title would be something along the lines of James May's Wednesday Afternoons After School.
  • Ascended Extra: The people who appear on the show who are not James May or established experts are usually members of the Man Lab crew who seem to have been roped into appearing on the show. Most prominent are producer Will, director Tom, and researchers Charlie, Cassandra, and Rory, though there are many others.
  • Ashes to Crashes: Averted; the space pet funeral goes as planned, and Tommy and Budgie Number 35's ashes are released into space.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The Man Lab Junk Mail sorter, which consists of special vacuum that sorts the junk mail from the wanted mail, loads them both into different cars of a toy train that then travels through the Man Lab, dropping the junk mail into a shredder on the way, and heads over to a funicular platform that takes the train (and mail) up to James' office. After James proudly asks what could be simpler, someone promptly drops a "No Junk Mail, Please" sign on his desk.
  • Bad Date: Charlie and Cassandra's date seems to be going well until Cassandra reveals she already has a boyfriend.
  • Bat Scare: It's only one, but still scares the crap out of James and Tom when it flies behind them at the castle and sends them running back into the safe room.
  • Blatant Burglar: James harnesses the power of this trope, complete with stripey shirt, to sneak around town and test out the cat-cams. He actually wants to be obvious, so people don't mistake him for a real burglar and "beat him to death with pick-axe handles."
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: James's speculation on what might been cooked in the kitchen of the haunted castle:
    "Spam fritters...poor quality sausages...bits of children..."
  • British Brevity: Series one had three episodes. Series two and three each have five.
  • Brits Love Tea: Mugs of it are frequently consumed, but taken to an extreme during the creation of the cold cup alarm. James and the crew break for an argument over how to make a proper cup of tea, including what to make the tea in and when to add the milk. The argument carries on so long the cameraman puts down his camera and walks away in frustration. Tea is Serious Business in the Man Lab.
  • Butt-Monkey: Researcher Rory, who is often conned into the dirty jobs and is used in social experiments where he usually manages to embarrass himself at some point.
  • Catchphrase: Once an Episode James will say "We could easily go out and buy [X], but where's the skill in that?"
  • Chained Heat: James and Oz are handcuffed to each other at the beginning of their escape from Dartmoor Prison.
  • Creative Closing Credits: Since series two each episode with a unusual musical instrument, or group, playing the theme tune as the credits scroll over them.
  • Date Peepers: James and Tom act as a welcome version, and communicate with Charlie via earpiece to give him advice.
  • Deadpan Snarker: James May, master at work.
  • Double Vision: James manages to hold conversations with himself on two separate occasions at the Man Lab bar via a split screen-type effect. In the first he complains to himself about the state of British cinema, and in the second he chides himself on the apparently abrupt ending of the prison break/orienteering segment. In the second segment, via a cutaway, he even manages to give himself a drink.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Employed to keep Oz on task while cooking Christmas dinner.
  • Duel to the Death: James and Will, over a parking space at work. The first time results in the death of an errant soundman. In the second, Will wins the fight.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Written by Dr James May, BMus.
  • Don't Try This at Home: During The Deer Hunter segment, James warns viewers not to try what they're doing at home, or in a pound shop mockup of Vietnam.
  • Dreaming of a White Christmas: Several segments in the Christmas episode address trying to create this, as James has never seen one in his lifetime. In the end they manage to make a tiny quantity of real snow which they launch via leaf blower. After this, they resort using to fake snow.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Simmy and Charlie can occasionally be seen in May's earlier show Toy Stories.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first series had Celebrity Man Task, in which a celebrity was charged with showing off a useful skill in a limited frame of time. This was done away with the second series, replaced with the Viewers' Letters segment.
  • Edutainment Show: Or as James often calls it, a "fact-based entertainment programme."
  • Every Device Is a Swiss-Army Knife: The Swiss Army Bike, which is a normal bike that has a squeegee for cleaning windows, a grindstone, a drill, a sprayer for creosote, and a blender. In the Christmas special, it also powers the record player.
  • Face Your Fears: The point of the ghost hunting segment. No ghosts are found, but James and Tom do successfully spend a night in the castle.
  • Fantastic Measurement System: At one point during the space funeral, James measures the height of the balloons in "Mount Everests" and "Oz Clarkes."
  • Fashion Show: Man Lab participates in one to show off their custom boiler suits. And yes, James himself heads down the catwalk.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Starting in the third series, the "Shopping List" on the blackboard often lists humorous items, like "Trousers," "Pies", and "Complete Works of Thomas Campion (1567-1620)".
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": While Man Lab handles Tommy the Cat and Budgie #35 with respect, they do also turn their ascent to heaven into a race.
  • Happy Rain: During the first failed snow attempt. James is happy with the result of Oz's cloud seeding, convinced that if it were actually cold enough outside the rain would be snow.
  • Haunted Castle: Lympne Castle, in Kent. Used for the ghost hunting segment, and supposedly the most haunted castle in England.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: Can be found on the Man Lab Twitter channel.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Assisting the traditional bun throwing in Abingdon results in a lot of bun based puns.
    "Coming up: will our bun battery be up to bun-mageddon? And will we run out of cheap, bun-based gags?"
  • I'll Take Two Beers Too: Rory sets a full round of beers in front Simmy via Simmy's new pressure-based "beer caddy." James immediately asks for the same.
  • Informed Obscenity: During the Christmas special, James uses "baubles" and "figgy pudding" as curse words.
  • Insistent Terminology: Thomas Campion, 1567 to 1620. This Verbal Tic has since been expanded to any figure of historical importance, including Queen Elizabeth II, 1926-Unknown.
  • Institutional Apparel: James and Oz in blue boiler suits during their prison escape, which they later cover in mud in a failed attempt to blend in.
  • Lampshade Hanging: James would have appeared to invested in a lampshade warehouse based on his voiceovers alone.
  • Let's See YOU Do Better!: James receives a viewer's letter asking him to replay a clip from the previous series where he can't stop laughing at Charlie's unintentionally cubist portrait of Cassandra. After doing so, the letter goes on:
    James: (reading) "Then let's see if you can do any better." (beat) Bugger.
  • Little Known Facts: One of James' Running Gags has him list the birth and death years of the famous people he quotes.
  • The Longitude Problem: In the second episode, James tests the Sympathetic Magic theory by attempting to sail to France using a dog as a navigational aid. The theory is that a wounded dog is taken on the ship; the sympathetic magic is performed on the dog every night at midnight in Paris; by watching the dog's reaction and noting the local time, you can figure out your longitude much as with the "clock" method. Not surprisingly, it fails.
  • Loud of War: Rather than hurt Dodger the dog to activate the Powder of Sympathy, they instead make him listen to Susan Boyle sing "I Dreamed a Dream."
  • Motion Capture: Used to examine the ways James can improve his football penalty kick skills.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The Rock–Paper–Scissors tournament the Man Lab team enters (under the banner of China).
  • Music for Courage: During the haunted castle segment, James sings Wings' "Mull of Kintyre" to calm himself down. As noted on the show, this is Truth in Television. It's also a Genius Bonus, as Wings once recorded an album at Lympne Castle.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: After losing the duel, James undergoes this.
  • Noodle Incident: For the Dartmoor Prison break, we don't actually see how James and Oz get out of the prison itself (HMP Dartmoor being a working prison, and all that); the sequence starts with them on the outside, trying to navigate their way across Dartmoor with a Scarily Competent Tracker on their trail.
  • No OSHA Compliance: While the Tea Temperature Alarm prototype does let you know when your cup of tea is about to get cold, it also releases metal filings and bits of solder into the tea.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: When Rory is presented with "The Tray" to haphazardly carry a round of beers through a crowded pub.
  • Pizza Boy Special Delivery: Parodied in James' short film "The Plumber Comes", which he makes to show in the Man Lab cinema. Also a Mythology Gag for Top Gear viewers.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: James and Man Lab reunite several old rock bands that never went far and give one of them the chance to sing at the High Voltage Festival.
  • Rearrange the Song: Each episode in series two ends with the theme being performed in a different style. The Reinventing The Boiler Suit segment also has a nifty and barely-recognisable techno version as background for the catwalk show.
  • Rummage Sale Reject: James lampshades his taste for loud shirts during the introduction to the boiler suit segment, in which he has an entire rack of them he has worn over the years. Especially hilarious when he pulls out a certain legendary purple-and-pink striped jumper:
    James: Look at this thing. I've never even worn it.
  • Russian Roulette: Parodied with the drinking game version involving randomly shaken cans of beer. Man Lab uses a version of it to demonstrate the "Monty Hall Problem." Bonus points since the segment is entitled "The Beer Hunter", and James and Simmy dress appropriately.
  • Scare Chord: The motion detector that James sets up in the great hall of Lympne Castle later scares the crap out of him and Tom when they blunder into it during their nighttime exploration.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: A Real Life one, Ian Maxwell, chases after James and Oz after they "escape" from prison.
  • Self-Deprecation: James often makes fun of the way he ends up looking or when he fails at completing a task. The portrait drawing segment is a particularly hilarious example.
  • Serenade Your Lover: James will teach you how, with some assistance from Thomas Campion (1567-1620).
  • Shaped Like Itself: "Oz Clarke played by Oz Clarke."
  • Shout-Out:
    • The segment on rigging cats with cameras for patrols is entitled "Police A-Cat-emy".
    • The introduction to the finding lost objects segment portrays James as Indiana Jones.
  • Sommelier Speak: One segment had them trying to establish if it was possible for someone to bluff their way through this trope at a wine tasting. (It wasn't.)
  • Take That!:
    • James make a pointed reference to Oz Clarke at least once an episode, if Oz doesn't appear outright; he also maroons Oz in France after he can't complete his trip across the English Channel during the first series.
    • He also pokes fun at Top Gear co-presenter Richard Hammond quite a bit, going so far as to add pages from one of Hammond's books to his batch of homemade toilet paper.
    • During the beer caddy segment, he makes a point of using the word "literally" correctly. Jeremy Clarkson usually doesn't bother.
  • Ten Paces and Turn: James demonstrates the correct etiquette for duelling in one episode.
  • Thwarted Escape: At the end of the map segment, it's played straight when James comes within minutes of escape, but hurts his knee too badly to continue and gets caught. Oz averts it and successfully meets up with "Knuckles".
  • Totally Radical: Only James May would describe an aqueduct as "totes amazeballs."
  • Transplant: Oz from Oz and James, and Simmy from James May's Toy Stories.
  • Unreadably Fast Text: In the second and third series openings, the blueprints for each featured item are accompanied by notes, quick jokes, and/or terrible puns.
  • We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties: The cameraman gets so bored with the crew's argument over how to make tea that he puts his camera down and walks off. Cue an absolutely terrifying version of Test Card F, with Oz as the girl and James as the clown.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: The space funeral's ascent through the atmosphere gets a quiet moment and some beautiful shots of the earth below.