When I heard that the BBC had decided to allow an American version of Top Gear to be made, my knee-jerk reaction was to assume that there would be copious amounts of gunfire, ladies, hicks in hats and gunfire. Fortunately, I was only right about one of them (the ladies).
Instead of the three hosts Brits and Americans with BBC America are used to (Jeremy Clarkson and the Gang), this version has three people that I’d never heard of: rally racer Tanner Foust (a man whose distinguishing feature is that he looks like Michael J. Fox), racing analyst Rutledge Wood (a man who has the strangest first name I’ve ever heard), and comedian Adam Ferrara (going into the realm of personal opinion, he’s a comedian who’s not actually that funny).
As this is their first series together, the chemistry between them hasn’t developed fully yet. Whereas in the British version, they’ve had 17 seasons to get to know each other, with this new version, you get the feeling that while they enjoy each other’s company as work colleagues, they’re not quite at that stage where they’d go out for a pint afterwards. Although if you watch the “poolside chat” special features, you can see that they are beginning to get there.
One thing I would suggest to them if I had the chance would be to improve the bits they use to introduce and close the show. At the moment they open with some unfunny stuff about how this show is not like American Idol or America’s Next Top Model. The goodbyes themselves would be okay, but after spending 40 minutes in the company of these people, the way they say goodbye is like you’ve been on the phone to them for far too long and they’re trying to rush the conversation.
The UK Top Gear is one of my favourite shows. I love the brand of humour, the chemistry that the presenters have, the crazy scrapes they get into that are in no way planned ahead of time, and the hilarious challenges they are given on the show. It’s nice to see that the general feel of the show has been replicated for the US market.
The car reviews themselves can be a bit boring (I’m not sure I recall a negative one), but the same can be said for the British version. I know I don’t watch it for the car reviews. And one of the reviews in the first episode did provide me with my favourite simile in the history of anything there’s ever been. Michael J. Fox-alike described a Lamborghini as “like being aroused at gunpoint”.
The challenges themselves are very similar to the UK version but benefit from a bigger scale and better locations. Where the UK version has to make special trips over to the U.S. or other countries to get picturesque locations, the U.S. crew can go to other states or film locally for a lot less effort. Therefore you are more likely to see beautiful views in the U.S. version, such as when they go to Alaska in the ninth episode.
The special features on the DVD includ audio commentaries (I rarely listen to these), webisodes and poolside chat clips. The webisodes are a series of small behind the scenes bits but nothing special. The best thing by far is the poolside chat, a series of short clips filmed by a poolside as the name suggests. The presenters talk about cars, their ideas for the next series and moan at Rutledge for him making them be ridiculously early for flights on several occasions.
The moment that sealed the deal came when I was watching a challenge that involved paintballing their cars for some reason (which bore a similarity to when Clarkson and co had to make their own limousines and tested their getaway speeds by paintballing them) and I started laughing hard. The challenges are definitely the area where they excel, as they are really funny and really get the team vibe that they are aiming for.
While I felt that it was not as good as the UK Top Gear, I still liked it (and as I mention earlier they’ve had 17 seasons to get good at what they do). If ever you wanted proof that it is possible to like both versions of a production, this is it. For all those in doubt, I’m going to recommend that you buy and own it on DVD.