What’s your favourite car show? Don’t worry, I know your answer. Everybody in unison now, “TOP GEAR!!!” And, we all know why. We love the gregariousness of Jeremy Clarkson. The boyish charm of Richard Hammond. The casual, everyman that is James May. The mystery of The Stig.
Together, they give us a show that’s too entertaining to ignore. Their clash of characters can result in camaraderie, dissension, child-like fun, honesty and wit. They make outside-of-the-box races, great features, funny interviews and clever segments, which are beautifully shot. And, we love it all. In fact, it takes over a year to get tickets to watch a taping.
Like most great British programming, Top Gear has been exported overseas. The first attempt was in Australia. It received mixed reviews and was dumped by it’s first network. The show has still found success. On it’s new network, it’s found over a million viewers (more than enough to keep a show on the air here in Canada).
The second country to go after a Top Gear was Russia. It, too, didn’t get a positive response. This, despite using of a Lada……..remember those?…..as their “reasonably-priced” car. They’ve only gotten through one season, so far.
Just recently, we’ve learned that there is a brand new Top Gear China! I watched the first episode without knowing a lick of any Chinese language. Nevertheless, I can tell they are hitting the mark. The feature pitted a Cadillac against two donkeys in a grain-grinding contest. While it didn’t have the production value of the well-funded Brits, it certainly had the silly-fun factor Top Gear is known for. The hosts seem to have good chemistry. We’ll see how they do.
This brings us to the Americans.
Now with most American re-productions of a British product, I’d roll my eyes and not even bother. But, recently, they’ve had some success with sitcoms The Office and Outsourced. Which are both entertaining. How will Top Gear do? It has travelled a long, arduous road to the North American airwaves.
In 2006, a pilot was shot with Bruno Massel of Speed Network fame. Not a bad choice, he has a character of his own, and could be a success with the right characters around him. Apparently, the characters were wrong because Discovery Channel gave it a thumbs down.
A year later, there were talks of the British hosts doing an American version. Brilliant! Right? Well, no. This didn’t get beyond the boardroom. Apparently, Clarkson didn’t want to spend so much time away from his paradise on the Isle of Man (right between Ireland and Britain). It’s kind of like Puerto Rico to the US. Except without the sunshine, tropical climate, beaches, tanned & curvy women and vibrant music scene. In it’s defence, though, it may have the creepiest flag on the planet.
Yet, another year later, a second pilot was shot, this time by NBC. Hosted by Adam Carolla for the funny (and for the eventual bit of “Carolla in Corolla”), Tanner Foust for the driving skills, and some tv carpenter who is Carolla’s buddy. Sometimes you wonder what’s going on in network executives’ heads. Well, it wouldn’t matter how much this trio sucked……er……tried, as NBC didn’t pick it up. Why? Because they were also producing Knight Rider, which was the definition of flop. And, since one car show was canned, so must they all.
Clarkson was quoted as saying, “they just don’t understand a word we’re on about. They just don’t get it really.” He didn’t think it could work. The American audience was too different.
Then, finally, in 2010, History Channel managed to pull it off. An entire season of Top Gear USA made it to air. That season is now making it’s way to Canada, and I dutifully sat down to watch the first episode.
Well, America, you’ve done it again, and not in a good way. You’ve watered down an amazing product to a point where little flavour is left. Despite a thumbs up from Jeremy Clarkson himself.
Tanner Foust, Adam Ferrara and Rutledge Wood have been tapped for hosting duties. I won’t call them mistakes just yet. But, they better grow some personality. Unlike the original, these three completely failed at grabbing me. Failed at engaging me. Failed at getting me to live vicariously through. More often I felt like, “Give me that steering wheel! I’ll show you how it’s done!”
They have no chemistry together, which is unacceptable in my books. You know the show is coming, go out for a beer! Go to a theme park! Trade wives! Whatever! They looked like they had met that day.
All three are just too tame. Ferrara didn’t make me laugh once, and he’s a stand-up comic. Wood showed that he’s a one-trick pony. His fairly entertaining bits from NASCAR Raceday haven’t transferred. He always had that I-can-believe-I-got-this-job smile on his face. Foust might be the dullest host on television. He sounds like he’s giving instructions to the other two. Not good. He’s a better fit as The Stig. Where I can watch him drive and not hear a word he says.
Speaking of The Stig. That character didn’t receive the love it deserved. It’s an important part of the original. Always being used in clever ways. Instead of creating a funny segment to introduce it (yes, it!), they explained it to camera. And, in first-grader language. Do they really think their audience is that dumb?
Their first feature started looking very cool. Cobra attack helicopter…..awesome! Last-run Dodge Viper…..wicked!! This is looking good. Looking very good. They’re off! Run, Viper, run! Drift out of trouble. Yay! Then they had to talk. Wood does nothing but occasionally say, “turn left.” Good job, Garmin-boy. They’re hiding in a car wash! Now what? Oh, they chat, and I fall asleep. The chopper should have shot them with a real missile.
Other shortcomings included having Buzz Aldrin as their first guest. Maybe you could have found someone that has done something this decade, perhaps? Just a suggestion. He did have an impressive list of cars owned. Too bad Ferrara couldn’t talk about them……because knows nothing about cars. How about you get your intern to do some research for you? Bonus suggestion.
Each of the three hosts were given a Lamborghini to drive. Each different from the other. Did they race them? No. They did individual standing miles. Boring. Did they package together a smart feature, and reveal them one at time? No. They dumped all three on our plate and let us sort it out. Did they have their hosts use their personalities to make it interesting? Of course not, they don’t have any.
What’s really unfortunate is that this version of Top Gear might be the best car show America has ever produced. (When’s the last time you watched MotorWeek? Ugh.) So, it will likely have some follow-up seasons. Which is great for the franchise. And, I’ll likely watch the rest of the first season. Pained as it may be.
I can only hope for improvement.