Top Gear US Revisited

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Image credit: Top Gear on History (Facebook)

Way back in 2011 I wrote an article congratulating Top Gear US for a nice start, something which was receive with quite a few frowns…I can understand where people were coming from (then) because for many years I was also a diehard fan of the original TG and, to be honest, I was pretty sure the US version wouldn’t make it past a few episodes. But I’m certainly glad I was wrong. After the first couple of shows aired, I saw the potential and began to hope that TG US would get a chance to grow and stop being just a shadow of its British parent, developing into its own identity. It did. The Americans claimed independence and once a again I have to say congratulations to TG US. So as the 5th season takes a short break (returning August 3rd), let’s ponder and where the show is and where it can/should head to.

What’s been great about it:

#1 – It’s a properly successful spinoff of the original TG without being a carbon copy. It created a unique personality which is fantastic. As we know the TG model is very difficult to emulate, partially because the show hinges on the chemistry between the presenters. The US version has that. TG Australia and Russia were really, really poor in this and several other key aspects, so they naturally died quickly. The Korean version is actually not bad and pretty faithful to the original TG mold; it is in all fairness quite informative, just lacks a bit of refinement in the entertainment part of the TG equation. TG US is, at the moment, the only one who captures and transmits to the public the same sense of fun we got from the Clarkson Hammond May trio for many years.

#2 – Keeps interesting and innovative. Despite having recycled its fair share of challenges from the original TG at the beginning, the US version quickly stepped outside the box and began to come up with interesting new challenges for the Bearded Lady, Tiny Dancer and Mother Trucker. This has lead to some truly great moments. I’ll take a couple of examples from recent episodes which got me to actually gasp: the massive wheelie Adam pulled with the Drag Pack Challenger on episode 1 (“American Muscle”) of season 5 and Tanner with the Cayenne (season 5, episode 6: “Cool Cars for Grownups”) overtaking Adam on the inside at Pikes Peak, two wheels off the tarmac and right on the edge of a big drop.

#3 – It got rid of the boring bit, a.k.a the guest. Sure, there can be an interesting conversation when the right guest stops by, but it’s rare and even with the original TG that’s a part I’d almost always skip, so good riddance.

#4 – As I mentioned way back in 2011, TG US gives American cars a fair trial, something that original TG never ever does and boy does it get old fast! I think the majority of the TG audience is quite knowledgeable regarding cars and because of that, we all know full well lots of American rides aren’t as refined as their European equivalents and no one contests that. But that being said, we’re also talking about different continents with different companies and car cultures and although quality is certainly a universal value, character, purpose and appeal are also big parts of the equation. So I for one am certainly tired of having the American cars completely dismissed and ridiculed on original TG just because it became a running gag fueled by the Brits overly-inflated ego.

#5 – Two of the presenters really know their stuff. Having Tanner Foust (especially) and Rutledge Wood is a big asset for TG US. Foust is a world class driver, one of the very best in activity today and Wood goes beyond the scope of his day job as a racing analyst, showcasing his knowledge on TG as a true auto aficionado. Adam Ferrara I honestly don’t know how he got in the mix for this show; he’s not a bad presenter, he has good chemistry with Foust and Wood and he brings some pretty interesting choices for the challenges. However, I’d like to see an “alternative”, perhaps a 4th member….but I’ll get to that in a bit. The important thing is that right now as a team, their individual personalities show without it all feeling scripted and disappointingly fake which is a huge plus.

Where there’s room for improvement:

#1 – Having its particular personality as I mentioned before is also a bit of a double edge sword because although it’s its own show, TG US should still (in part at least) serve the purpose of the original TG: an in-depth look at cars, something which is currently falling a tad behind. The last road test á la classic TG I can remember was of the Ferrari F12. The challenges are entertaining but I’d like to see more on this front.

#2 – A fallow up to the first issue, I really do wish the show would have kept the power laps. It has always been great fun on original TG to keep a score of who’s faster, who’s the “king”, and I definitely believe it would be an asset to TG US as well. Keep American Stig power lapping!

#3 – One of the main issues that made me lose all will to go back for the new seasons of TG UK is the scripted aspect of the show. We all know that was always a factor of course, but lately it has become ridiculously predictable and consequently unfunny. TG US is fallowing the example in some aspects. Like the trucking episodes for instance, catching things with the semis…the show can do better than that and realize that the spontaneous events  always provide the best entertainment.

#4 – TG US would benefit immensely from securing the participation of a lifelong Automotive enthusiast/expert and in America, for a car show, there’s really only one name that comes to mind: Jay Leno. Him being on board for TG would be heavenly and I personally would have no objection to a 4th member of the TG US team. It would be one more step way from the original TG mold, but it would very nicely compliment a show which is now focusing on entertainment but that also needs to provide information and we all know how significant of an asset Leno would be in that regard.

About the repetitive criticism:

The “I like original TG better” argument is still being thrown around every day of the week that ends with a “y”. To me it seems pretty simple, it’s been 5 seasons, everyone heard that complaint and if you don’t like the show, no one is forcing anyone else to watch so please stop bringing sand to the beach. I truly get loving TG UK because I used to adore it as well, but the simple fact is that despite the ratings keeping strong – as they’ll always be until the time when Clarkson, Hammond and May decide to call it quits – the quality has been decreasing dramatically. As I mentioned before, it’s a shame that now we can tell precisely what is gonna happen every single time the TG trio gets together to do anything. There’s 0 spontaneity left in all of their actions and conversations, the jokes are as predictable as can be and even the once beloved running gags don’t even deserve a chuckle anymore. I’m sad to find myself this disappointed with TG and I truly miss the mad natural exuberance and child-like enthusiasm of Clarkson and Co. from a few years back. That’s precisely one of the things I’m getting in spades from TG US and probably why I (and other viewers) have connected so well to the show.

Before writing this short article I took a peek at the ratings and it looks like TG US might be giving History execs. something to think about since the show has yet to break the 1.5 million viewers barrier when in seasons one and two for instance, the weekly viewership was at times above 2 millions. Truly hope this one doesn’t get axed (knock on wood) because History would be killing off an already greatly entertaining show that still has a lot of potential to grow.

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