Top Gear for People Driving on the Correct Side of the Road

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frezik
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Top Gear for People Driving on the Correct Side of the Road

Postby frezik » Mon Nov 22, 2010 6:17 pm UTC

Anyone catch the premiere of Top Gear US?

I don't have high expectations for any Top Gear spinoffs. I couldn't stand watching the AU version much past the first season. It felt like I was watching Fifth Gear's poor attempts to copy Top Gear.

The big thing about the original is that the three presenters are all good friends and work together really well, which was mostly a matter of luck and took 3 or 4 series before it all started to mesh. It's hard to replicate that anywhere else.

Plus, for the US version in particular, the more commercial nature of TV makes it hard to criticize any products and not lose advertising. Top Gear must be allowed to criticize.

Watching this episode, the delivery seems forced. Tanner Faust is a race car driver, not a presenter.

All bellyaching aside, I loved it. It put a smile on my face through the entire thing, and that's exactly what Top Gear should do. I feel better about this now than I ever did the AU version.
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Re: Top Gear for People Driving on the Correct Side of the R

Postby RAKtheUndead » Tue Nov 23, 2010 9:34 am UTC

I wrote a big long post, now a bit obsolete, about why I didn't think that an American version of Top Gear would work properly:

Spoiler:
Top Gear, the BBC's motoring television series, has attained a lot of success since its reinvention in 2002. Critically acclaimed, and also one of the most popular television series in the world, Top Gear has a great formula, a mixture of cars and comedy, with presenters who obviously share some chemistry. More recently, the show has been exported fairly successfully to Australia and Russia, and while these probably haven't captured all of the elements of the formula yet, they still manage some success in their own right.

However, the proposed American version never made it to air. Jeremy Clarkson mentioned in a press conference that the American focus groups "didn't get it", and this may well be a contributing factor. However, that's certainly not the only reason why this adaptation failed to capture the attention of the American public.

One need only look at the proposed presenter's list to see where the problem begins. To be fair, they seemed to make a decent choice in two of the presenters, with Adam Carolla being a petrolhead and Tanner Foust being a professional racing driver. However, things start to fall apart when you look at the third choice of presenter, Eric Stromer. He owns a Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Toyota. Camry. Hybrid. Hell, even saying it makes me feel dirty. If you need me to explain why this is just about the worst type of car, short of a G-Wiz, that a prospective Top Gear presenter could own, you're obviously not much of a petrolhead.

...and because I don't think many of you are petrolheads, I suppose I'll have to explain. You see, the Toyota Camry is just about the most boring car you can buy. It's so damned boring that they don't even sell it in Europe any more, replacing it with the Toyota Avensis. Buying a Toyota Camry is a way of telling the world that you've given up, and you're not going to be an entertaining dinner guest.

Add the word "hybrid" onto this, and you add a new level of mediocrity. There's a section of my article, "Probing The Inaccuracies: The Automobile" (yes, yes, a shameless plug; feel free to ignore if you want to) which explains why hybrids are so mediocre, but to cut a long passage short, they often get worse fuel economy than an equivalent turbo-diesel. Actually, the Toyota Prius can get worse fuel economy than a BMW M3, in certain circumstances. So, basically, I've sought to prove that Eric Stromer is a boring man who wants people to think that he's being environmentally friendly.

So, strike one for Top Gear America by virtue of their presenters. Strike two comes virtue of the network that they'd chosen for the show. Top Gear America was meant to be broadcast on NBC, a privately-run network. Compare this to the BBC for the original show, and SBS for Top Gear Australia, both publically-owned networks owned by the governments of the respective countries.

There's a reason why the state-owned networks work better for a show like Top Gear. Because of this state ownership, the presenters of the original and remade British series and the Australian series can be critical of cars, something which has happened many times over the course of the British series. Compare this to NBC, a channel which uses advertising to survive, and you may begin to see the problem: companies may cut their advertising if the presenters are harshly critical of certain cars, and frankly, if you have to be nice about some Korean car that feels like a household appliance, like white goods, you've eliminated a lot of the fun of Top Gear in one fell swoop.

The third strike comes straight from the American public. It seems strange that I'd be saying that, that I'd be agreeing so quickly with Jeremy Clarkson on this issue, considering the reputation that Americans have as being car lovers. But while there are some very hardcore enthusiasts of the automobile in America, I feel that the general public treats the car as more of a tool than a work of engineering genius - or not, in certain cases.

This attitude can be figured out very quickly by considering one thing. You know that Toyota Camry I was talking about above? The most boring car you can buy? That's America's favourite car. Essentially, the American populace has gone off and bought several millions of the most boring car on the market today, which pretty much says it all to me - their reputation as a land of car lovers is largely undeserved, despite the enthusiasts that exist.

Compare this to countries like Britain and Australia. It seems ostensibly odd that Britain has that level of car enthusiasm, considering that they let their car industry go down the tubes. Yet, one must only look at the number of top-echelon motorsport teams that come from and make their bases in Britain, along with the sheer number of surviving specialist car manufacturers and the number of classic car owners and clubs to determine that there's more of a love in cars than you'd think.

Australia doesn't even hide its love of cars, with its massive competition (i.e. fighting each other and spitting vitriol) between Holden and Ford. (In case you're wondering, I support Holden. Go to hell, Ford Australia.) Such a country is an obvious choice for a car show such as Top Gear, even if they haven't got it to the standard of Top Gear in Britain.

So, using the baseball analogies, America's struck itself out as an appropriate home to another adaptation of Top Gear. I'm going to put the question to you: do you think that there's any hope for a Top Gear being successful in America?


With that in mind, I will note that the fact that they put Top Gear US onto a commercial channel was a big mistake. A lot of the entertainment of the original Top Gear comes because the British don't have much of a car industry any more, and the non-commercial ethos of the BBC allows the presenters to rip the living shit out of cars that they don't like. The Perodua Kelisa comes to mind immediately.

Secondly, I still don't think that Americans are as car-crazy as they'd like to think they are. While I know well that America has roads other than straight, long, boring highways, who uses those other roads unless they have to? Also, any nation in which the Toyota Camry is still the most popular car has some screws loose in the head.

However, I'm going to have to watch the show before I can give it a proper review. I don't hold out much hope, particularly with the lack of the non-commercial ethos taken from the BBC, but perhaps they'll surprise me.
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Re: Top Gear for People Driving on the Correct Side of the R

Postby broken_escalator » Tue Nov 23, 2010 4:11 pm UTC

I flipped to it last night thinking it was the English show, and I didn't much care for it. I really only watch top gear for the banter the hosts have with each other. I'm definitely not a car enthusiast.

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Re: Top Gear for People Driving on the Correct Side of the R

Postby Endless Mike » Wed Nov 24, 2010 4:23 am UTC

I watched it. It's not as good as the Brits, but it's not as bad as I was expecting. It was better then the Aussie version, if nothing else.

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Re: Top Gear for People Driving on the Correct Side of the R

Postby RAKtheUndead » Wed Nov 24, 2010 11:52 am UTC

OK, so I've watched it now. I have some observations:

- Too many goddamned ad-breaks. Coming from the perspective of the British show, and watching it without the advertisements, you can see where they have to be repetitive simply because they have to divide the show into too many sections. The British version is far more fluid and fits together better.

- The presenters are acceptable. It's clear that they made a better choice than their original line-up, with all of the presenters demonstrating a reasonable amount of car enthusiasm. That said, they're not as good as Clarkson, May and Hammond.

First and foremost, the British presenters are "everymen", demonstrating cars from a level more akin to an amateur petrolhead than a hardcore car journalist for the likes of Evo magazine. Adam Ferrera seems to be the closest to the "everyman" ideal, with Tanner Foust perhaps being a bit too uncharismatic, although it's the first episode, and it would be reasonable to give him a few episodes to get into the swing of things. It was fun, though, to see him cargasming over the Lambo Balboni, though.

Secondly, there's something about the British mentality demonstrated by the presenters of the British show which I like. There's the manic raving of Clarkson - mixed with his delivery which makes use of comic timing exceptionally well, the childish glee of Hammond and the deadpan presentation of May, all mixed together. The Americans don't seem to be that varied in their styles, and while they work together well enough for the sake of the show, they haven't quite meshed.

- Obviously, the Viper vs. Cobra battle is an obvious port of the Exige vs. Apache battle in Season 4 of the British format, complete with archetypal cars from the respective nations. The American version was entertaining, but not as interesting, I felt, as the British version; the British version was also backed with perhaps the most fitting music ever. Still, it was worth watching.

So, after all of that, I can say that Top Gear America is a pretty good car show. Not perfect, but it's early days yet. However, I have doubts that the show will attract the same sort of audience outside of the core petrolhead audience. They have the formula down reasonably well, but are missing some of the finer details. I think I'll watch it again, but perhaps won't be as hasty to watch it on time as the British version.
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Re: Top Gear for People Driving on the Correct Side of the R

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Sat Nov 27, 2010 6:33 pm UTC

Those of you complaining that the American version is on a commercial channel should probably be aware that America has public television only so we have a place to put educational cartoons for children and butt-of-jokes-boring documentaries. (This is a bit of an exaggeration in the sense that it's often not that bad, but the point is that nobody really watches public television.) That said, I've never watched this show and don't care all that much about cars, so, uh, exit thread left pursued by bear.
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Re: Top Gear for People Driving on the Correct Side of the R

Postby dawg1232 » Sun Dec 12, 2010 2:13 pm UTC

I like Tanner Foust. That being said, I followed his drifiting career.

I don't like this show. They know what they're talking about. That's about it. I'm not entertained the way I am with the British version. The origional will always be the best, and I'm willing to give the American version a chance. It has potential if the hosts find good chemistry. They seemed to when Foust challenged them to a drift off with a blind man. That was entertaining.
Spoiler:
But watching three guys get POS cars they found on a site from Bolivia, and then drive across South America only for Hammond's to fall down a dune, that is truly entertaining. Plus he chewed coca leaves. And it was funny.


I just hope they find the same chemistry, and they try not to be too technical in future shows.
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Re: Top Gear for People Driving on the Correct Side of the R

Postby Midnight » Mon Dec 13, 2010 8:32 am UTC

The Bolivia episode is one of my favorite bits of non-fictional television. I mean, I'm sure some of it's scripted... but whatever, you know what I mean. Great episode.

Until TGA has the various near-death experiences, it's gonna have to play second fiddle.
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Re: Top Gear for People Driving on the Correct Side of the R

Postby frezik » Mon Dec 13, 2010 6:25 pm UTC

Midnight wrote:Until TGA has the various near-death experiences, it's gonna have to play second fiddle.


Driving that Caddy around a dirt course is along those lines. I don't think the History Channel will give it the budget for big international episodes, though. Not unless it becomes a ratings bonanza.

I would like to see a three-way challenge episode between all the Top Gears, like what the UK version did with D-Motor a while back.
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