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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.
- 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's ashes are released into space.
- Bad Date: Charlie and Cassandra's date seems to be going well until Cassandra reveals she already has a boyfriend.
- 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, and series two five episodes.
- Cat Scare: Actually a Bat Scare; one flies behind James and Tom at the castle and sends them running back into the safe room.
- Chained Heat: James and Oz are handcuffed to each other at the beginning of their escape from Dartmoor Prison.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Informed Obscenity: During the Christmas special, James uses "baubles" and "figgy pudding" as curse words.
- 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.
- Little-Known Facts: James May is involved...what else would you expect?
- 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.
- 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 Name Is Not Durwood: The show does a segment dedicated to remembering people's names. Solid methods include repeating the name frequently, spelling the name out loud, using word association with the name and a physical feature, and talking to your gin and tonic.
- My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: After losing the duel, James undergoes this.
- 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.
- 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."
- Take That: James make a pointed reference to Oz Clarke at least once an episode, if Oz doesn't appear outright; he even goes so far as to simply maroon 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.
- 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.
- Thwarted Escape: At the end of the map segment, James comes within minutes of escape, but hurts his knee too badly to continue and gets caught.
- Transplant: Oz from Oz and James, and Simmy from James May's Toy Stories.
- 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.