I couldn't help but imagine the pitch meeting for hit BBC2 series World's Most Dangerous Roads. "How about a Top Gear extreme version, but without the petrolheads? We put two vaguely entertaining celebrities on a perilous road, and see if they survive the journey - and each other. Best-case scenario: they get on famously, get freaked out by the road, get annoyed with each other and, fingers crossed, don't get themselves killed. Then they pronounce it the adventure of a lifetime." Although that's probably not the pitch they got, a whole lot of British celebs - mainly comedians - were silly enough to say yes.
In the opening episode of the first series, which airs Tuesday night, we meet intrepid traveller Charley Boorman and comedian/reality-TV go-to girl Sue Perkins, the British equivalent to Jaquie Brown. The duo will drive the Dalton Highway, a hazardous supply route running alongside the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
The truck-hauling safety expert on hand to offer advice (scare them silly) tells them they've picked the optimum week to crash: ice-melting season. He isn't a master of soundbites, so Perkins helpfully steps in: "We're travelling on the most dangerous road at the most dangerous time with trucks in the middle of the road coming towards us and no place to pull over apart from a snow-covered ditch?" The guy decides this doesn't quite cover it. "Did I mention the trucks are probably 100,000 pounds or more?" He's talking weight, not price. By now even Mr Intrepid Traveller is looking a bit peaky. And the narrator is just getting started: "Ultimately their very survival will depend on them working together."
But the eight-day road trip is initially so uneventful that they stop for a scenic mountain flight and to chat with truckers and residents. When Perkins meets subsistence hunter Jack, she's virtually talking gibberish, so happy is she to talk to someone new. Jack's opinions on the contentious issues of oil drilling and wilderness extinction add useful local context, but soon it's back to the car.
Just when it seems the Dalton has been over-hyped, a storm hits. With zero visibility and no way to pull over, the pair must rely on their radio system to communicate with nearby truck drivers. "Well, this is certainly the most scenic way to get irritable bowel syndrome," Perkins says.
The quips soon give way to panic. "We were so complacent. I just thought 'how hard can it be'?" says Perkins, presumably wishing bad karma on the BBC as she gets them stuck in a snow drift.
So far, Dangerous Roads is less a travel show, more a psychology experiment about how people react to stress and to each other - and its first pair is entertaining enough. But the heroes are the truckers who help them. They're unfailingly nice when they could easily be irritated or outraged by these numbskulls endangering themselves and wasting others' time in the name of TV ratings. It's Perkins who points out the obvious: "This isn't a trip for tourists."
World's Most Dangerous Roads premieres Tuesday, 9.30pm, TV One.