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.