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Top Gear US vs. The Car Show

July 25, 2011
[UPDATE: In early January 2012, news broke that The Car Show was not getting picked up for a second season on Speed. And I can’t argue with the decision, the show was poorly crafted, edited and televised. The co-hosts never jelled, the show was trimmed from 60 to 30 minutes and one of the co-hosts was dropped. It seemed like there was never a cohesive plan for the show. On the flip side, Top Gear US, while still a shadow of its British cousin, improved dramatically buoyed by high production values and a three co-hosts that found their stride.]

Top Gear (2002 TV series)
Image via Wikipedia

Let me get this out-of-the-way from the beginning, Top Gear is the greatest television show in the world. Shockingly, there’s only a whiff of hyperbole in the previous sentence, as the British show about all things four wheels is actually the most watched program worldwide (the last count I saw gave it a viewership of 500 million).

Essentially, Top Gear is a show about three middle-aged blokes (and a Stig) who like cars and love to make fun of each other when they’re not praising/ridiculing car manufacturers. It also happens to be very well shot. It’s a fun show that looks good.

In the U.S., our Top Gear experience was limited to downloading the episodes illegally or tuning into BBC America and their 6-month-delayed and edited versions.

However, last year, after a host of misfires, Top Gear finally produced a U.S. version of the show (localized versions of Top Gear are produced in several countries across the globe). To put it simply, Top Gear US was just shy of an abomination. There were two things going against it right off the bat, the unenviable comparisons to the original and the fact that it was the first season of the show.

The Top Gear franchise is as much talk show as it is car show, and talk shows usually need some time to mature. Johnny, Dave, Jay, Conan, Craig and Jimmy didn’t nail it out of the gate, for that matter neither did Oprah. They all needed some time to knock the kinks out and get in tune with their audience. So I watched the entire first season of Top Gear US. It really didn’t get better show to show. As a matter of fact the last show was the worst. In Top Gear fashion they did a road trip. The original show has traveled across Africa, from Miami to New Orleans, Bolivia to the Pacific, to the North Pole and the length of Vietnam.

The U.S show choose a slightly more mild trek, driving three used trucks trough Alaska. Sadly, it offered none of the true hardship that makes the  Top Gear travels so much fun, three buddies, each beholden to their automobile and willing it to the end of the journey. For the Top Gear US trip, dead cars were simply abandoned on the side of the road the minute they got busted, with no apparent attempt at repair. For the Bolivia challenge, one of the presenters turned their 4×4 into a 4×2 when the center differential fell apart, they literally remade the 4×4 in the middle of nowhere, with just the three presenters and their travel crew, which is pretty awesome. And that’s what’s missing from Top Gear US so far, the pretty awesome.

Sadly, the promo for the this year’s Top Gear US continues the boring, zzzzzz:

In the meantime, another bit of car TV has made it into deep cable, The Car Show with Adam Corolla. The current podcast king (former radio host, Man Show host and Loveline host), Carolla was originally tapped to head up the first try at Top Gear US when it was an NBC pilot. The show wasn’t picked up and when the reboot came around, Carolla was contractually obligated to another show and unable to host the new Top Gear US, now on the History Channel.

The Car Show, on the Speed Channel, now has two episodes under its belt, and while it doesn’t have awesome yet, it does have the beginnings of good chemistry and an eye to what makes the original Top Gear work. The four co-hosts, Carolla, the New York Times’ Dan Neil, NBA legend John Salley, and Matt Farah from the have both the gearhead bona fides and a natural rapport that makes the show a fun watch. That’s not to say there isn’t some room for improvement, Carolla’s forte isn’t TelePrompTer reading, he’s an off the cuff guy, and the camera work/editing of the recorded pieces isn’t quite polished yet. However, I think the show has a lot of potential. Though, I suspect there’s a few women who are going to hate it. Just remember, these are three guys who couldn’t pay to get laid… and John Salley.

Two weeks after The Car Show began to air, season 2 of Top Gear US aired. And since my beloved original Top Gear doesn’t broadcast again stateside until the end of the summer, I watch with the hope that this version has improved. I don’t need it to match its British original, I just need it to be good.

Well, episode one is watched, and it’s not a great start to the season.

Following the original’s lead (once again showing no ability to be a show on its own), season 2 begins with their “road trip” challenge. Can three small cars be turned into trucks for a race across Texas? Shockingly, they can’t! Who would have guessed a Mazda Miata, a 1985 BMW 325e and a 1975 Ford Maverick couldn’t replace a truck when trying to herd cattle, carry manure and morph into monster trucks.

I don’t know what to tell you about the Top Gear US, I want it to be good, but it keeps sucking. I think the blame has to be placed on the producers who seem to just want to rip off the “style” of the original Top Gear, without recreating its soul. The three hosts Adam Ferrara, Tanner Foust and Rutledge Wood appear to be jelling, however they’re given such horrible direction that I’m not sure they can overcome the stupidity of the show. Actually, the hosts were probably the best part of season two’s first episode, they seem to be finding there niche – old man car wrecker Ferrara, good’ ol boy gearhead Wood, and pro driver prick Foust. Maybe if the producers can figure out how to hook the show’s direction into these three guys then there’s a chance for some success.

However, until the original Top Gear returns, I’m sticking with The Car Show.

Oh, who am I kidding, since I’m a glutton for punishment I’ll keep watching Top Gear US. But I’m not recommending it to anyone.

The Car Show, Wednesday’s at 10 PM ET on Speed.

Top Gear (U.S.), Sunday’s at 10 PM ET on History.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 25, 2011 2:01 PM

    Sorry about the typos in the original post, my editing software was on the fritz.

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