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Top Gear USA: Has Potential, Needs Some Work

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On: Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 4:34PM | By: John Welch

Top Gear USA: Has Potential, Needs Some Work

First of all, let me point out that Top Gear UK was around for 20 years before it was morphed into the program we all know and love today. Jeremy Clarkson has been cracking-wise about cars for a long time; he has a deep, thundering voice, and is very good at belching out sound bite-sized quips while maintaining control of whatever car he may be piloting at the time. Rutledge Wood has been a NASCAR circus clown for the last six years, Adam Ferrara is a stand-up comedian, and Tanner Foust is a race-driver turned SPEEDtv Host-Monkey, and as such has layer upon layer of hokey, Canadian-style television training to shed before he is anything other than wooden in front of a camera. Lower your expectations a might bit, and Top Gear USA can be seen for what it is: a start.

James May and Richard Hammond were both polished writers and public personalities before they began hosting Top Gear. Top Gear UK's producers have a larger budget, more experience and the joys of a British tv schedule working for them—no commercial interruptions equals a 58-minute "hour" instead of a 43-minute "hour". Top Gear USA is haphazard at best, and that isn't the fault of the hosts, producers or the History Channel. Trying to follow in the footsteps of the single greatest television show of all time isn't something one just does . . . it will take many seasons for TGUSA to shine as brightly as TGUK, if it even can. The first episode was not a home run folks, not even close . . . but the second episode displayed significant improvement. Still not "good", but better with the potential to become great.

I won't lie; I need shows like this to work. I neeed it. If this show works then more like it will follow. If those shows work then perhaps road racing can become a legitimate topic of discussion at Thanksgiving and other family get-togethers. As it is now, my Uncle Wayne and I sit in the corner and whisper about Porsches and Volvos while the rest of the family discusses Iran and babies and Oprah. Out in the open. I need shows like this to work because automobiles are cooler and more important than 99% of the idle chit-chat that fills our daily lives. I need this show to work because I need America to think about the things that I think about a little more. Namely, cars.

Having spent the opening paragraphs making excuses for what I feel is not yet a watchable show, now I'm gonna let them have it. Any car show that embarrasses me to watch with my wife gets a bad grade. SPEED's coverage of F1 is a program we enjoy together because the hosts are funny and informative. Women don't shy away from it because of the quality of the broadcast. Our female subject couldn't stomach TGUSA beyond the first commercial break; it was too sloppy, too Korney, too poorly planned. I won't ruin the show for you, in case it's burning a hole in your DVR, but I will tell you that the first segment gave the impression that it was the work of several different production companies, and that said companies were not communicating while editing 15 minutes of plot-free helicopter flying. The fluid nature of the British Top Gear isn't present here, something I didn't expect but would have liked. If segments are still this awkward by episode five, then I'll worry. The Wifey didn't last through the first episode, but the second, well, she watched the second episode all the way through. She only said "this is gay" four or five times. I am hopeful!

Frankly, Tanner is trying too hard, Rutledge isn't trying hard enough, and Mr. Ferrara just seems in awe of the whole thing. The copy being written for this show exposes some of the inherent problems with American television, and America in general. This show, like so many others populating SPEED, Spike, Versus and whatever other cable channel you might name, is written for 12-year-olds. When introducing new segments Rutledge Wood fumbles over ill-advised hyperbole, obviously not comfortable with the things he is saying. The narration is awkward and forced, bringing to light yet another problem TGUSA will always have: no alluring British accents. Listen to Jeremy describe a Lamborghini . . . now listen to Tanner describe the same car. If you aren't asleep you are certainly disappointed, and most certainly not as excited. That's ok because this is not Top Gear UK and they swear they aren't trying to be Top Gear UK.

To this end it would seem that the producers of the American Top Gear couldn't decide who their audience is, and how many of them will be familiar with the TG format. The "Stig", Top Gear's resident hot shoe and man of mystery, is given the strangest introduction; you might miss his appearance if you aren't paying really close attention. It seems the Ben Collins mess has affected the Stig's air time on these shores as well. They won't have to worry about people clamoring over the Stig's identity if they continue to treat him like this. Segment names are also Americanized. Lord knows I felt a swell of national pride when I heard the "Star in a Reasonably Price Car" bit had been renamed "Big Star, Small Car". Holy crap, I am so glad we didn't have to consume words with multiple syllables . . . the audience may have lost interest and changed the channel. History Channel is aware of this American tendency, and TGUSA suffers for it.

Other foibles include the Buzz Aldrin interview, boring and awkward as all old-man interviews are. Aldrin is a national hero and certainly deserves some face-time, but perhaps he should have been the third Big Star, not the very first. A celeb with some energy and perhaps some zeal for cars would have been nice. I don't think Buzz could have cared less. Adam Ferrara is mostly absent from this first episode, and when he is present, he is reading the same clunky, fake-adjective filled copy that has already turned me against the TGUSA writing staff. Stop trying to appeal to "God-Fearing But Still Totally Extreme" Middle America Soccer Moms please, the Duggers are on another channel. The second episode wasn't much better. Charlie (Dominic Monaghan,) drives a Prius and swoons over the Tesla S, not exactly a "car guy". Rutledge Wood handles the interview like a rube, avoiding words while displaying Dominic's lap. Seriously, he said two completely forgettable things during the entire 1:45 lap. "Wow, that's fast," might have been one of them.

Sounds like I hated every second of it, right? That isn't the case. I am thoroughly pleased with the fact that this show even exists. I have long wondered what an American-flavored TG would be like, knowing the entire day dream that it wouldn't be as good as British Top Gear, but that if it could be just different enough I might have a home team to root for. The hosts will get better, there is no doubting that. If the first season helps sell a few t-shirts then there will be more money for hiring cutting-edge video talent. Adam Ferrara will make you laugh so hard you fall off the couch at least once this season. His honest surprise at the brutality of a LP-560 launch was hilarious, and humanizes him in a way the other two hosts have yet to discover. Their time will come. His inability to do a burn out on the second episode illustrates another point to be made about Ferrara: he doesn't know a car from a donkey. It will be fun to see his car-lust grow (as it already has) over the course of the season.

If you think it's terrible then don't watch, but I think you're an asshole for not giving it a chance. Our own Drew Christy finds TGUSA to be nothing short of appalling. "Unwatchable. Production value is poor, the show lacks consistency. Rutledge Wood is completely useless," Drew says. I betcha he watches every episode though, just like I will. After a teething period of four or five episodes this dog will hunt; the question is do we have the patience for it? Only time and ratings will tell, but I think it is going to revolutionize the stale auto programming we have come to expect in America. Pat Goss and MotorWeek can both go pound sand; my DVR has space only for car shows that start with "T". . . . and lots and lots of racing and "Teen Mom". And "Real Housewives Of . .". And "America's Next Top Model" and "16 and Pregnant" and "Bridezillas" and "Hoarders" and "Intervention" and . . . well, you get the idea . . . the cable bill isn't in my name . . .

Now for an interview with the fellahs . . .



RoadKill | 11:17AM (Tue, Nov 30, 2010)

The writing is still a bit off. What comes out of their mouths doesn't sound like they're own words. If the show is going to be heavily scripted and not off the cuff, maybe they should get lessons, because it seems more like a stupid home town infomercial at times. But what else are we to do? I'm sick of auctions, Nascar, and classic car shows...


imwithcoco | 11:21AM (Tue, Nov 30, 2010)

There is always MotorWeek! ;-)

  • imwithcoco


imwithcoco | 12:10PM (Tue, Nov 30, 2010)

But as viewers we should not have to try so hard to like it. Who cast the show? Even in the interview videos from Hot Rod you can see the disconnect between the three hosts. I have three friends that would have been better candidates for hosting TG America. While it is true that you can't force chemistry, they could have found three hosts that work better together from the beginning.

Here is my view of the hosts...
Tanner Foust: The best of the three but boring as hell. Shut up about drifting and "drivers cars". This is the number one reason why a race car driver should not be a host.

Adam Ferrara: Get funny, funny man! Adam is the best for interviews and I like that he can't drive a car.

Rutledge Wood: This guy is a useless tard! He is the American stereotype on which Jeremy Clarkson has built a career. The American Redneck; fat, lazy, stupid, drinks Busch in a can and only cares if his cars go "really fast". Go back to Nascar with all of the other talentless hacks.

Oh, and please stop pouring the American gravy on everything. We know this version is the US version, we don't need a reminder every 10 minutes.

  • imwithcoco


RoadKill | 11:28AM (Tue, Nov 30, 2010)

You are right imwithcoco ! If I wanted a show heavily influenced by advertisers, then Motorweek is it! I only hope that they give TOP GEAR a fighting chance...otherwise we will be relegated to the same old crap...


RoadKill | 3:50PM (Tue, Nov 30, 2010)

I think the show needs Dennis Miller... I can see it now, "Citizen Arcane" himself! In pure, non-imitable Dennis style shooting out obscure references and pop-culture allusions with the cocksure rapidity of a electric hot-air popcorn maker, all the while thinking; where's my friggin' biographical dictionary?

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