There is a long history of cultural exchange between British and American television. Sometime the American results are better than the British versions like Sanford and Son. Some are wildly successful without making major changes like American Idol. Some are carefully adapted taking into account the cultural differences of two countries separated, as Winston Churchill said, by a common language, like Law and Order: UK. Others are humiliating failures because the producers didn’t have a clue what made the original great. All three American versions of “Fawlty Towers” would fall into this category.
Unfortunately for the Americanized version of the long running BBC hit “Top Gear” it is trending into the third category. The show is lacking three elements; originality, chemistry among the hosts, and humor. That’s a shame because it has a lot going for it. The best asset of the show, after the cars, is comedian Adam Ferrara. I will readily admit that I have a bias towards my fellow comics doing well but the problem is that the producers of the show seem to lack the humor gene. In the six episodes I have seen thus far they haven’t let Adam loose. The closest they came was when he got a ticket for speeding on the causeway to Key West. After watching the rest of the episode I wasn’t sure if this was an actual event or staged for the camera.
More on that in just a few minutes. Let me back up and admit I am a huge fan of the British version or the show. The three “presenters” as they are called in the U.K. seem to have a real friendship and mutual respect for each other even though they constantly “slag” on each other. I realize that relationship has been built over the years but even when I go back and look at older seasons of Top Gear on DVD that chemistry seems to exist. The two other hosts of the American show, Tanner Foust and Rutledge Wood seem to be a little out of their element as hosts, despite the fact that Mr. Wood has experience as a reporter for NASCAR and Speed Network. I don’t want to be too negative about Mr. Wood. He has a “good old boy” hominess that I think could work to his and the shows advantage but it seems that the producers haven’t figured that out just yet. Secondly the British version is anchored by Jeremy Clarkson; though one of the three hosts he obviously the boss and the center of the show. I believe having a “boss” on screen would help give the American show some definition and Mr. Ferrara would seem to be the natural choice.
The problems of Top Gear USA are greater that the hosting duties. Thus far every “challenge” given to the hosts is a direct rip off from the BBC version. Car vs. skiers, seen it! Boat, car and plane race to a destination, been there. Many of the shots seem way too staged to have been just captured by the roving camera. It the episode where the guys race from Miami to Key West there is a beautiful shot of all three modes of transportation in the same frame as they race South. What are the odds? This is the scene which called Mr. Ferrara’s traffic citation into question. Call me crazy but I think a realty show should be realistic!
They also use the “Star in A Reasonably Priced Car” segment from the original series. This features a celebrity driving an underpowered car around a European style formula one track.
This feature of the show could have been easily “Americanized” by using a typical “NASCAR” banked loop track, (Perhaps the producers failed to notice how popular NASCAR has become?).They could have also used a drag strip, the most American form of racing.
Despite its faults I am watching Top Gear USA; it is set on my DVR. I am hoping the show matures and finds its stride because like millions of Americans I love cars! When the host gets behind the wheel of a Bugati-Veyron, McLaren, or some other supercar I will never own I can’t help but thinking how cool that would be. When they take a challenge in a “beater” I can identify with that feeling of hoping my car makes the next exit after driving several of the POS I have owned in my life. I hope the show runs long enough for them to get so far down the list that I might get invited to take the reasonably priced car around the track because I know I could leave Jay Leno in the dust!