Posts tagged top gear
One of the first articles I wrote for this blog was an article questioning if Top Gear USA could be as good (or even decent at all) compared to the original.
After sitting down tonight and watching the premier, I’m still not sure.
Don’t get me wrong — it wasn’t bad. In fact, it was actually pretty good when compared to most American car TV. It managed to get me to crack a smile and laugh once or twice, which is more than you can say for something like Motorweek.
First, three good things about the show:
1. They kept the familiar format.
I’ve got to be honest, one of my biggest worries was that they were going to use different theme music. When the show finally came on and the familiar music started to play, I gave a sigh of relief. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad. The studio was different but carried the same design elements, which was pretty cool. While the segments were organized differently (and a true “review” was missing), all the things Top Gear is known for were there. You had your cool car films with a little host interaction and a lap in between.
2. The Camera work…
…was great. It’s clear they had some major production assistance from the Brits. The editing and actual “film” part of the show was excellent. The Viper vs. Cobra segment was cool, not to mention it had plenty of swooping landscape shots that made you remember what program you were watching. With the small exception of the shaky-cam incident in Tanner Foust’s car, the Lamborghini shoot was also pretty damned good. There was one specific shot where you could see Tanner’s car fading in the distance, heat radiating off the asphalt behind him, a symphony of awesome coming out of the tailpipes. I suspect first time American viewers of Top Gear were hooked by that moment.
3. Rutledge Wood.
I admit it — I slammed this guy. I was terrified some guy from a NASCAR show on Speed was going to pour the typical American TV car show antics all over the place, but honestly he has a lot of personality. He has a goofy thing going on that almost makes him the “nerd” of the bunch. During the Lamborghini segment he honestly seemed genuinely excited to be where he was. I’m going to enjoy watching him get a little more comfortable with the show. I imagine you will see some comparisons between him and James May by the end of the season.
And the bad:
1. The other two hosts.
Tanner Foust and Adam Ferrara seemed… cold. I understand that a good portion of the show is scripted, but it was bloody obvious they were reading lines. During the introduction the pair even missed cues, stumbling over each other. While Tanner occasionally would feel genuine, he mostly just felt flat. It’s pretty clear he isn’t used to being in front of a camera, even though he’s done similar work elsewhere. Adam Ferrara barely does anything worthwhile in this first episode, though I will give him credit for an entertaining one mile drag run. Outside of that the guy seemed like a dead fish, especially during…
2. Big Star In a Small Car
Everything about it was horrible. Jeremy Clarkson, being a journalist, actually has the ability to interview another human being. Adam Ferrara could’ve been replaced by a robot. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Not to mention Buzz Aldrin looked confused the entire time. The little clip introducing the segment seemed lame as well. Was I watching something off of YouTube?
3. The details.
Top Gear is a great show because of the details. There is a lot of polish on all the episodes that makes them absolutely wonderful to watch. Small things like the background ambiance and music, how they work with the Stig, the transitions between segments — those are the things that really push the show over the edge. Unfortunately, all of those elements were missing here. The music in most of the segments sounded amateur at best. At points it was even distracting — when they introduced the Lamborghinis there was a track playing that sounded like a high school music teacher’s version of Deadmau5. It completely pulled me out of what I was watching. The epic music is what adds to the swooping shots and really pulls them together and it was totally missing. Moving past that, the Stig was poorly introduced. As far as any new viewers know, the dude is just some racing driver who is anonymous. There’s no character there. It honestly seemed like the hosts weren’t even sure of how they were introducing him.
Overall, it was decent enough that I’ll watch next week. I imagine I’ll keep watching through this season and then really make a solid judgement at the end of it. If the chemistry between the hosts improves, they show that they are capable of producing a proper review, and they can pay attention to the details, then I think we’ll have a pretty good show on our hands.
And on that bombshell, I’ll have to give this first episode a 6/10.
Also I would like to see some kind of ode to (insert something mundane here, like a turnip), but in one very long sentence. The whole thing, one sentence.
A C16 Fueled CF Turnip. GO.
You ravished bride of quiteness, my sweet turnip, you are powered by the highly explosive, 2,2,4-trimethylpentane fluid that pumps into your cylinders, detonated and compressed by the forged pistons I have expertly installed, driven by a block so solid that I’d trust it to bring me from Pike’s Peak to NJMP and back again, oh you delicious ivory vegetable, your fair, blushed skin covered by a thin layer of cross-thatched carbon, the fibers lighter than a feather and stronger than the hardest threads of titanium — oh, your prowess is unmatched on the salt-flats of my heart, how I can never forget your six minute and seven second lap around the Nurburgring, your two minute and seventeen second sprint around Sebring, oh how could I forget any of this, your gears slammed straight to the next, each producing a satisfying pop from your titanium exhaust, each rev accompanied by a symphony unmatched by any other car in or out of production, even topping the 8C, making the Alfa look like a mere trumpet to your sousaphone, what amazing curves you have, where other cars are simply melted plastic you are cellular and alive under that carbon fiber skin, you are a thing that has life, has natural energy, and yet you choose to reach beyond what exists inside you, deciding that the energy stored within your cell walls is just not enough, so you crank it up to 100 and hope that there is no danger to your manifold, such a bold vegetable — a fearless one, not a broccoli but not quite a carrot — something in between, something incredible and created by a higher power, you are no doriftu god, yet you are not afraid of letting your tires turn into smoke and ash as your engine is fired to max power, as fuel is injected at such an intense pace that your engine mounts tremble and threaten to crack, no, you are not afraid, you are fearless, you are the Stig, you are a creature with no feelings or any opinion whatsoever, you are a racing turnip, an exact metaphor for the spirit of hoonage that lives within all of us petrolheads, you are what we all must achieve to be, brave turnip and these words are my attempt to do justice to you so your greatness can be shared with the entire world — go like schnell into the history books, my clock-powering friend.
Alright, alright. Let’s do something a little… lighter.
Everyone knows I’m a huge Top Gear fan. So much so that I am seriously considering a Stig Halloween costume. I mean seriously now, how awesome would that be? It would be pretty cool to have class on Halloween too just for the chance to come into the room with a shiny white helmet, sitting in the back with a blank notepad, staring up at the professor, creating quite an awkward scene in the back of the room. Man, even just driving there in a full race suit would be so hilarious to me. I would occasionally glance over to traffic as if nothing was wrong.
Top Gear has been a primarily British (completely British as far as I am concerned — the Australian version lacks the flavor of the British one) thing. While it has caught on around the globe, everyone knows Top Gear UK as simply “Top Gear.” There is no real alternative. Jeremy, Hammond and James are the boys we all love to watch. Jeremy is so well respected that he was the only journalist in the UK that subscribers to The Times were willing to pay a subscription fee for. Pretty impressive.
The show itself has a certain appeal that catches car nerds everywhere and ropes them in. The presenters get to do things that we all secretly would love to do. Drive an Evo with the Marines — Royal or otherwise — chasing you down? Check. Launch cars out of a hydraulic cannon? Check. Travel Europe looking for the best driving roads? Check. And who could forget? Driving some of the fastest, most exotic, elite cars… in the world. Check, check, check.
The shows hosts do all of this with such a buddy-ish attitude that it is just amusing to watch. These aren’t multi-millionaires airing out their fine, bull-stamped laundry. They are just like me and you, or at least they sure give off that vibe. They have chemistry that absolutely cannot be replicated.
They’re honest too. Very honest. Clarkson openly called the new Camaro stupid. He lambasted the 300C as worthless junk and pointed out that the Corvette was mostly plastic. How do you think that would go over with American audiences, so proud of their automotive lineage that they’re more likely to burn a flag than buy anything with four cylinders or a badge made outside of America (though don’t tell anyone — but I’d bet you might find some lead in ‘em, if you catch my drift). Let’s not forget how they get their paychecks, either. The BBC gets quite a bit of revenue from a government appointed fee. In other words, BMW, GM or VW don’t get their filthy advertising hands on the reviewers. It’s all legit. I mean, have you seen a Speed Channel “review” recently? It isn’t exactly subtle.
We can’t forget the humor, either. It is awkward and dry at times, often filled with innuendo and jokes that the FCC would quickly jump at. They do things that aren’t quite politically correct and don’t really worry about offending anyone. It creates an honesty that is refreshing, especially for a viewer from this side of the pond. Is this really the type of thing that sells well with an American audience that values shows that don’t offend their sensibilities (or at least not without a tag of “reality”)?
Still, none of the above has anything to really do with why I have no faith in the American version of Top Gear.
The real reason? Simple. Something I’d like to call “genre expansion.”
While something can be great and critically acclaimed that sticks comfortably within its genre, I don’t consider it truly great until it can reach outside of it without losing itself. In the specific case of music a band that is truly great will attract listeners who would never otherwise touch the genre. Opeth is such an awesome band because in my mind they are true to themselves while still bringing in listeners who would scoff at any other type of metal. At the same time they aren’t sacrificing their core audience to do this.
Top Gear is so great because it appeals to non-gear heads without selling its soul to do so. A good portion of my friends love Top Gear but have absolutely no interest in cars. They could care less about how fast things are or what a LP-640SV is. They do know who the Stig is though — and they laugh just as hard when Captain Slow goes on a dry rant about… anything. It has an appeal that goes beyond just a “motoring” show while at the same time appealing to its core audience of car nerds who cheer when they get to see another addition to the power board or a tribute to a great racing driver like Ayrton Senna.
Can an American hosted Top Gear do that?
Can any other car show, for that matter?
I don’t think so, although I’ll certainly be watching.
(For reference, the Top Gear USA trailer from Jalopnik: http://jalopnik.com/5606884/top-gear-usa-the-first-trailer)