Top Gear crosses the pond

I finally did it. I caved and watch Top Gear (the US of A version). Yup, after a few years of teasing and rumours, they’ve finally done it.

For those of you who don’t know Top Gear (shame on you, first of all), here’s one of my most favourite clips to give you an idea of what they’re all about:

I’ve been watching Top Gear for years — I even remember when it was Jeremy Clarkson and Tiff Needel battling it out on the race tracks before the Hamster (Richard Hammond) showed up and then finally Captain Slow (James May) joined them for the “new” Top Gear that began in 2002.

The trio of Clarkson, Hammond and May is unbeatable. They have great chemistry, they play off one another extremely well and they are bloody funny, no matter what they’re doing. They’re also extremely knowledgeable about cars and anything motor-related. May is an avid mechanic freak who prefers to look at the inner workings of the cars instead of racing them around the track like his lead-footed co-hosts.

From their weekly challenges to The Stig (who recently revealed himself, but that’s OK because they have a Stig Farm for the new guy who’ll start in 2011) to their “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” segment, the show works.

Of course, there have already been spin-offs. There’s an Australian version, a Russian version and a German one. There might even be others I don’t know about. And I’ll admit I’ve never watched the others (however, there was an episode where Top Gear UK met up with their German counterparts and challenged them to various car-related tests, quite amusing, as usual).

So, when it was first announced that there would be a US version of Top Gear, I’ll admit, I cringed a little. Why? Because there will never be a comparison to Top Gear UK. From the cinematography to the dialogue to the general feel of the show, it’s on a level all its own. There will never be a show as good as Top Gear UK.

But enough about how much I love Top Gear UK, what did I think about its American offspring?

In a word: Meh.

It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t amazing either, and there are a few reasons why. First of all, they are copying Top Gear UK to a tee. Now, I realize it is supposed to be the same show, therefore it should have the same format etc., but if you’re going to copy something exactly, then make reference to the show that you came from. Even when they introduced their Stig for the first time, there was NO reference to the UK Stig or the Stig Farm, just: “Here’s our racing driver, the Stig. He’s fast and you’ll never see his face.” Done. Um, boring much?

Their challenges were intersting, though the filming was a bit cheesy. But one comment from one of the hosts (and I’ll get to them in a second) really got under my skin. The boys were seeing which was the best Lamborghini out of the Gallardo Superleggera the Gallardo Balboni and the Murcielago SV. Now, when the Murcielago took centre stage to see if he could be the fastest down a mile stretch, one of the hosts loudly stated: “He’ll never do it, his car’s totally not aerodynamic enough, it’s not made for that.”

I’m sorry, come again? Let me show you all, oh faithful readers, what he was looking at when he said that:

Clearly not meant to go fast -- nope.

I’m all for sarcasm and humour (that’s what Top Gear UK is built on), but this host was serious. He did not have a trace of “ha ha” in his voice. I was shocked. Now, maybe he did mean it as a joke, and if he did I apologize but someone should teach him how to sound like he’s being sarcastic.

Now, about those hosts.

Can we all say “stiff” together, please? I know, I know; it was their first show, but you’d think they would have spent some time together before filming, built up a relationship, gotten used to one another and worked up a banter between them. It was like watching high school students at the first dance of the school year: awkward.

I think the only host I’m remotely interested in hearing speak is Adam Ferrara — at least he’s funny. Tanner Foust is just pretentious (and I can attest that he’s like that in real life after I spent a few days with him on a drive event in the US), and Rutledge Wood needs to learn to speak up and actually make himself present on the show.

Maybe I’m bitter about it all because they’re trying so hard to be exactly like a show that’s clearly beyond the scope of imitation.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case I think it’s more of an embarrasment. They need to either stray from being so much like the original, or try harder to make that cross-pond connection and liven up the show a bit more.

I will continue to watch it in the hopes that the host chemistry will build and the show will improve, but I can’t say I’m holding my breath on that. At least the Brits will be back in early 2011 to show ’em how it’s really done.

I’ll leave you, oh faithful reader, with some of Top Gear UK’s best moments (according to a random YouTube subscriber, but I do agree with most of his choices):

Drive on,
– M.

~ by drivingmsmiranda on November 29, 2010.

6 Responses to “Top Gear crosses the pond”

  1. Yo Miranda!

    Great article and oh so timely since I’ve been watching old episodes of the original Top Gear via Netflix streaming with my 6 year old son (a car aficionado in the making!). Those boys have great chemistry and they look like they’re having a great time! Love this show!!!

    I didn’t realize that there was going to be a US version until this past Saturday night when I stumbled upon an episode that was airing on the History Channel. It was pretty horrible the first time around. It was on again last night, so I decided to give it a second chance. Watching the snotty racing driver in a Mitsu Evolution going down a snow covered mountain and racing two guys on skis was pretty cool to watch. Though the show was a bit better the second time around, they still pale in comparison to the original. Though I’m not a fan of the US version of The Office, at least they made enough changes to make it there own. Let’s hope the US Top Gear finds its own voice and improves. The US could use a good car show or two!


    • Hey G-LO

      As always; thank-you so much for stopping by!! 🙂

      I love that your 6-year-old is watching Top Gear already — fantastic!

      I’m willing to give Top Gear US a few more chances to impress me, but I just don’t think they’ve got the right formula yet. We’ll probably watch the one you did over the weekend later this week (we record our shows), but I’m not holding out that it’s going to radically change my opinion, that’s for sure.

      I agree the US definitely needs a car show (or two) worthy of talking about, but I’m not sure this was the right route to take.

      Drive on,
      – M.

  2. It does strike me as weird that they don’t reference the UK show or make their own version of it – which would be better.

    The America n show should be big, brash and larger than life (a bit like America) and revel in that – with opinionated and obnoxious hosts bordering on annoying. Seems like a missed opportunity to me…

    • Hey Mrshev,

      As always – thanks for reading! 🙂

      As one of my other avid readers, G-LO, pointed out; the US version of The Office survived because they clearly made it their own, whereas this Top Gear US is trying so hard to be the same as Top Gear UK that they’ve failed because there’s no way to be the same (if that makes sense).

      Perhaps they’ll catch on to the idea that they need to make it “American” and change it up in the coming episodes — at least that’s what I’m hoping for!

      Drive on,
      – M.

  3. I just hope that making it more “American” (should they happen to go that route), doesn’t mean that they’ll be “dumbing it down”. 🙂

  4. […] episode last night with a grin on my face the entire time (something I just don’t do with the U.S. version). Not only am I slightly obsessed with the show (especially since I got to speak to my idol the […]

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