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)