Well, it was very overdue indeed: the Top Gear franchise has finally had a home-spun version for the American market, called (not surprisingly) Top Gear USA, and the Richard’s F1 crew will bring you the best bits from the show’s maiden season.
Translating a TV show format from one country to the next can be a hit and miss exercise at times, and there have been plenty of US incarnations of existing shows that have been utter dogs: Kath & Kim and Iron Chef being two examples I can list immediately.
However, there’s also the flipside, where the American version of the show has matched or surpassed the original format: The Office and American Idol are perhaps two that sit in this camp.
So where does Top Gear USA sit? That’s a difficult question…
Top Gear USA’s hosts (L-R): Adam Ferrara, Tanner Foust & Rutledge Wood
Showing on the History channel, Top Gear USA aims to bring an American take on one of the most successful show franchises ever made.
Drawing comparisons with the original UK version is both an easy and inevitable exercise: there are three personable male hosts, they have a ‘Stig’ tame racing driver, and also run a guest celebrity spot (although in this case titled ‘Big Star, Small Car’, using a Suzuki SX4).
Much of the content and scenarios used in the opening episode is borrowed straight from the UK version, although an American twist is given to each.
A particular piece we like is Top Gear USA’s test track, a great mix of tricky corners, yumps and sudden direction changes laid out on a makeshift circuit using the disused Marine Corps Air Station El Toro airbase.
One key area of concern will be how the show manages to uphold its journalistic integrity and freedom of its format, given that it is being shown on commercial television, which has sponsors helping to foot the broadcast costs. By contrast, the UK version is broadcast on publically-funded networks, and is well-known for its critical reviews.
The failure of Top Gear Australia to garner a sizeable audience share – in spite of a significant production investment by its host networks – is well-documented, and no doubt the bean counters in the USA will be keeping a close eye on the audience figures for the US version of the show.
The maiden episode was somewhat light on critique, but the pilot is always about trying to introduce the format to its audience rather than delivering any serious curve balls so early on.
One thing that’s clear is that a lot of money has been given to this project. The production is very slick and much of the episode is nicely shot. The placement of the in-car camera for the ‘Big Star, Small Car’ segment is awful (right on the dash in front of the celebrity), and one hopes that will be sorted in future.
The show’s three hosts – in spite of possessing names that would do them well on an eighteenth-century battleship! – are professional racing driver Tanner Foust, actor and comedian Adam Ferrara, and automotive and racing analyst Rutledge Wood.
All very personable and with good screen presence, they seem to interact quite well as a trio and the synergy should improve over time.
The first episode, entitled ‘Cobra Attack’ sees a battle between two snakes, as Foust and Wood give the outgoing Dodge Viper SRT a fitting farewell by pitting it against a Cobra attack helicopter through a small town in Georgia.
The three hosts also place bets on which Lamborghini – out of the Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera, Murcielago LP670-4 SuperVeloce, or the Gallardo LP550-2 Balboni – is best, taking them on a super quick drag race through the desert.
The show’s maiden celebrity guest is Buzz Aldrin – the second man on the moon – and he is bestowed the honour of hustling the Suzuki SX4 around the test track. Sadly, the interview with Buzz is woefully short and doesn’t remotely match the structure employed by Jeremy Clarkson in his.
And there it is again, another comparison to the original show!
[Original images and videos via Top Gear USA official website]