Judge Adam Arseneau gave the same nickname to his boxer shorts.
It's where Frankenstein keeps his cross-country skis during the off-season.
I never thought it would be possible to find a car modification-themed television show with a more irritating theme song and opening credits than Pimp My Ride, but here we are.
Facts of the Case
Star of the hit Discovery Channel show Motorcycle Mania and CEO of the infamous West Coast Choppers custom shop, outlaw mechanic Jesse James (an actual relation to the notorious cowboy) and a rotating group of misfit mechanics tackle different challenges every week in Monster Garage. The goal? To make the most bizarre, craziest machines ever conceived out of old and busted automobiles.
Each episode, Jesse and a group of mechanics tackle the week's challenge to heavily modify an automobile to serve a secondary task…say, to cut lawns, pick up trash, operate as ambulances, fly or climb hills. They have $3000 and a week's worth of time to design, construct and test the machine in a head-on challenge, which must always preserve the appearance of being a normal, street-legal automobile. Also, they have to try not to kill one another.
All 13 episodes are included on the three-disc Monster Garage: Season One set (they better well be, considering the title.) They include:
Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they fail, but the results are always one thing…monstrous!
Like Trading Spaces for high school shop class graduates, Monster Garage works entirely on the premise of a mathematical equation which states that men + tools = create anything. Beyond all practicality, reason or common sense, the show seeks to modify cars into…well, anything they want, as long as it still drives and resembles a car at the end of the day. Watch in amazement as humble automobiles take on monstrous shape and form, transforming into hearses, golf ball collectors, and hot air balloons! Stare in horror as the team stands around perplexed how to relocate the gas tank in a Ford Mustang so they can install a giant lawnmower blade in the trunk! Chortle with delight as teammates turn on one another, nearly coming to blows, arguing over which auto manufacture supply company to order parts from! It has all the excitement of a carnival sideshow attraction.
What I like about Monster Garage is the utter pointlessness. The
creations churned out by the mechanics have absolutely no purpose or function
whatsoever beyond the challenge of the build itself. Why turn a minivan into a
garbage truck? Why not? Why turn a Ford Mustang into the world's fastest
lawnmower? Because they can. This devil-may-care attitude is a refreshing
change, especially compared to rival MTV show Pimp My Ride, where
obnoxious teenagers beg and plead to have their cars tricked out just for
bragging rights with their friends. The irrelevance of the technical endeavors
on Monster Garage makes it a true testament to the artistry of the craft,
since they do it for no other reason than the sheer delight. And if they fail a
challenge, the team takes absolute glee in destroying their vehicle with
sadistic efficiency (eg. machine gunning). The creations on Monster
There is much about the show that is mediocre, however. Outside of the fascinating work being done on the automobiles, much of the show is spent standing around waiting for parts to arrive, or endlessly sketching over blueprints, or quibbling between team members. Each episode is an hour in length, and this leg room in terms of pacing occasionally results in slow-moving development. The camera work is overly simplistic, even unattractive; the garage is minimally decorated, which all cumulates in a feeling of low-budget amateurism. The narrator sounds disinterested and detached, only adding to the feeling of alienation. I cannot help but compare Monster Garage to Pimp My Ride, the only other car modification show I am immediately familiar with, again and again. For all its faults, Pimp My Ride is full of exuberant high-energy and dynamic in its presentation, especially compared to the ho-hum Monster Garage with its slow camera cuts, dismal soundtrack, corny on-screen camera effects and languid narration. Intellectually, I prefer Monster Garage, but for some reason, I found it less enjoyable to watch than the alternative.
Of course, they are different shows entirely. Pimp My Ride appeals to high school kids who wish their parents would buy them a pimped out ride, while Monster Garage appeals to more mature professionals who earned their money, went out and bought one, doing most of the modification work on their own. They each have their niche, and I can respect that. One is about the fashion and culture of car modification, while the other is about engineering at its most creative and superfluous, and extreme modifications for the sake of curiosity, answering the lifelong question of, "can we actually mount a functional trebuchet catapult on a van?"
As it turns out, yes you can. Episode nine.
Technically, Monster Garage: Season One is a mixed bag. The visual transfer is borderline trash, like a teenage kid with a bad case of acne: splotchy, blurry and ugly. The colors are saturated; reds and blues have a nasty habit of smearing into one another, black levels are gray-ridden, edges are jagged and harsh, and the picture suffers from digital jagged and pixilated grain and distortion quite visible to the eye even without magnification. Sure, the picture is serviceable, but all things considered, this is a pretty sketchy transfer for a television show. Maybe the show just caught me in a bad mood, but I didn't think much of the visual presentation.
Audio on the other hand, is much better; a meaty Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix that is rich, full and deep, with good bass response and excellent balance between channels. Dialogue is always clear, music is mixed quietly (thank God, because it sucks) and ambient shop noises never drown out the show.
A single bonus feature is included, a pseudo-documentary "bonus episode" entitled "Under The Hood," which is in essence, an episode of Monster Garage about the making of Monster Garage. For die-hard fans, it is a good addition, but most people probably couldn't give a crap.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Like a fly buzzing around my neck, I cannot put my finger on what turns me off of Monster Garage. In theory, the show covers all the requisite bases, but something sneaks up in the back of my brain and fills me with discontent whenever I ponder it. I do like the fundamental idea of the show, but at the same time, my finely honed judicial senses know something is inherently wrong with the execution.
Monster Garage may be far less contrived and artificial than MTV's Pimp My Ride, but it lacks the energy and enthusiasm of its rival counterpart. Jesse James and his group of "outlaw mechanics" seem to tackle projects with what could only be described as forced "bad boy" attitude that borders on lethargy. Could that be it? Do I actually miss the lovable cast of West Coast Customs? Does the rotating cast on Monster Garage prevent the viewer from ever warming up to the mechanics?
Is it the horrendously lame attempts to make the show hip? The occasional MTV-like bursts of sound effects, cheesy special effects, or sly on-screen text written in hip, loud colors that feel awkward and painful, like parents accompanying you to a high school dance? The CGI effects that look like a kid in grade school designed them on his parent's computer? Could that be it?
I could drive myself nuts with this. I am forced to admit that Monster Garage is a good show…and yet…and yet…
Monster Garage: Season One is a male hormone-laden fantasy chop shop of auto modification for no other reason than to kick ass and chew bubblegum. It may not be a perfect show, and lacks the polished pop-culture ease, high energy and loveable cast of rival MTV show Pimp My Ride, often making Monster Garage boring in comparison, but you have to admire the mad scientist exuberance that fuels the show every week.
In a pinch, it certainly will satisfy manly cravings of plasma torches and crankshafts if you need the testosterone fix.
Close call, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Bonus Episode: "Under the Hood"
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