You’ve heard them – your friends and coworkers railing with righteous indignation against Top Gear USA.
“It’s nothing like the UK version,” they howl.
“It’s not funny.”
“There’s no rapport.”
“It’s a goddamn insult!”
Or, like me, you were sent a host of emails and texts containing such terse and pithy messages as “FAIL,” “EPIC FAIL,” and “WTFail.”
So everyone has been pulling their hair and gnashing their teeth as if Beelzebub had yacked in their Lucky Charms. But was it really THAT bad?
I watched the premiere on Sunday night and – fire up the wicker man – I was not induced to vomit. Yes, truthfully I didn’t think it was terrible. I was entertained, even. I guess I am a simple person because when I see fast cars driven dangerously by humorous lunatics, I just can’t help but be amused. It certainly wasn’t Top Gear UK and it definitely has its flaws, but the show has promise.
Top Gear USA is like the Gran Turismo 5 of TV shows. We’ve been tantalizingly promised this for years, and like devout followers, have sat through delays, heartbreak and persecution without losing hope, but – I’m shocked as I realize this – it seems as if even GT5 has less to live up to than Top Gear USA, with its inevitable comparisons to Top Gear UK – a show which sits deservedly atop the echelon of the greatest forms of escapism ever imagined by a person, and were I to become Bishop of Rome, all those involved in Top Gear UK would be destined for sainthood. But putting Clarkson & Co. out of your mind while watching their American cousin allows you to enjoy the show for what it is. And it is fun.
Yes, the script was rather awkward, and replete with jokes that were far from witty and more miss than hit (to cut the hosts some slack, I doubt Patrick Stewart could have done more with that script). The in-car segments felt recited, and frankly, the interview with Buzz Aldrin was a disaster. But the show is obviously in nascency. As stated, it could definitely benefit from improved writing, and it clearly lacks the lens filter budget of the UK show, but it shares the original show’s enthusiasm for all things four-wheeled.
We all agree that no one can top Clarkson, May and Hammond. The rapport between the three cannot be replicated, and really shouldn’t be. An imitation of it would as transparently fake as a Type R badge on a Camry. The only way to succeed as an offshoot is to start from scratch and allow a new cast of cohorts to develop their own style and banter.
By now we all know the UK hosts very well, whereas most of us are unfamiliar with their American counterparts. The UK hosts are often more appealing than even the cars and the challenges. I personally like all of them. We know May has an obsession with technical detail, drives slowly and gets lost on his way to work, but is quite the pianist. Hammond apparently whitens his teeth, went to art school to meet chicks, and has a genuine fondness for American muscle. And Clarkson is just simply incorrigible. Once viewers become more acquainted with Tanner Foust, Rutledge Wood and Adam Ferrara, and they develop a rapport of their own, I’m sure opinions of the show will improve overall.
The only area where Top Gear USA could seriously stray into irritating territory is in redoing the UK challenges. I noticed that in an upcoming episode, Foust shows a blind man how to drive the test track, and I saw a clip of another episode involving a car racing skiers down a ski trail, variants of each occurred on the UK version, not to mention the whole “cars being pursued by military vehicles” theme. I hope the US show aims for original content because I’d be surprised if its audience isn’t entirely comprised of huge fans of the UK version who have undoubtedly already seen the UK episodes. Doing an American version of the same stunts, while amusing for new viewers, would be repetitive and annoying for Top Gear veterans.
In any event, I think this was a valiant first effort – definitely better than I expected. Give me gorgeous exotics, tire smoking, and redlining thrills and I’ll be happy. Top Gear USA has so far delivered. Give it some time to get polished and I bet it could be a respected offshoot of its British cousin. But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?