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'Top Gear' Premiere Recap (VIDEO)

by Danny Gallagher, posted Nov 22nd 2010 10:25AM

Rutledge Wood and Tanner Foust take a Dodge Viper on a Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopter in the premiere episode of It's been said before (including by me) but it can't be said enough: America deserves its own version of 'Top Gear,' the BBC car show that dispenses global glee over supercars, sports monsters and other dream gear-grinders.

We may not have created the concept of the car (depending on who you ask) and what you are willing to define as a car. We did, however, create one unmistakable and essential part of the car: its coolness.

We put the sense of style into a streamlined '57 Chevy by sticking those killer tail fins on the back and turning an ugly hunk of V-10 oil and metal into a smooth, sultry piece of pornographic machinery. We gave the world the one thing that made Steve McQueen just slightly cooler than Steve McQueen: a green 1968 Mustang GT 390 Fastback. Hell, without us, cars wouldn't have unnecessary rear-spoilers, custom flame paint-jobs or (God forbid) cup-holders.

So it's good to finally see the good ol' red, white and blue step up to the plate with a 'Top Gear' of their own, which premiered last night on The History Channel. The problem was it had to have a smidgen of the greatness of the original or risk becoming another enemy combatant in a Guantanamo-sized sleeper cell of failed British TV remakes ('Payne,' 'Red Dwarf,' the unwatchable 'McSpaced'). And since the original is just about as close as an information and entertainment show can get to perfection, my hopes weren't high -- but they weren't completely destroyed.

The opening got off to a rocky start as it explained itself to an audience who have never heard or seen the original. It felt unnecessary to a regular 'Top Gear'-head like myself, but the need to spell out every aspect of the show almost completely killed its spontaneity. Of course, this won't be repeated if the show builds a bigger audience.

The true charm of the original is the enthusiasm and snarky camaraderie of Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, the original show's gearhead hosts, which bleeds into the pre-planned parts. Their unique love of all sorts of cars and car-dom brings focus to each episode, so that the show isn't really about cars, but the stories, adventures and fun that cars create.

The show attempted to capture that spirit in the first segment by pitting a very hot-looking Dodge Viper against a Cobra AH-1 attack helicopter, armed with simulated missiles trying to blast co-hosts Tanner Foust (the racing and drifting expert) and Rutledge Wood (the good ol' boy gearhead) through the streets of a small Southern town. None of the lines uttered by the hosts had any punch because they felt really rehearsed, particularly their "Pamela Anderson" analogy to the sleek, plastic fakeness of the sultry Viper. Some of Wood's voiceover lines were so cringe-worthy, they felt like they belonged in the first draft script to 'Point Break.'

This left most of the humor on the shoulders of their other host, comedian and 'Rescue Me' actor Adam Ferrara, who took on the Yankee role without laying it on too thick. He's also a car lover and very funny, but his sit-down with astronaut Buzz Aldrin for the show's "Big Star, Small Car" segment (their version of "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car") gave him zero chance to prove that to people who didn't know him. The interview was simply Ferrara reading a list of the cars Aldrin had owned with a quick segue into showing Aldrin's lap, which wasn't exciting to begin with since he's the first person on the leaderboard. Thankfully, the show has room to move so Adam can only gear-up from here.

I would have written the show off by this point, but the episode became almost self-aware at this point, as though the producers and editors realized the mistakes they made in the first half and tried to quickly correct in the show's final turn through "Chicago" and "Gambon." It actually got much, much better.

The three hosts got to drive three high-priced Lamborghinis (a Balboni, a Murceilago SV and a Superleggera) and review them in their own special way, and Ferrara's review actually drew a laugh out of me when he noticed that the cup-holders in the Superleggera cost $650 each as an added feature.

Foust had a great boyish spirit as he has a full-on geek-out over the Balboni's metal-on-metal gear shift. Even Wood, who could be a great foil for some of the show's nuttier challenges, had a great line about the fear his Murceilago exudes by "simply being parked." It all felt less scripted and more spontaneous as the segment developed. Even the opening montage of a matador maneuvering his way around a smoking hot Lambo as it kicked orange dirt around a high-speed frame had beauty to it, like the original British show's reviews, which are much flashier and jumpier.

They were free of the reality show producer's leash to make their own observations about the cars they were driving and their fellow dragline times. The show found its footing and realized that the spirit of competition and need for unnecessary bragging rights are what make the show work so well in any country or language.

Even the in-studio banter got better as Ferrara and Wood ganged up on Foust for having the slowest time, the way every guy and his friends would if they had three free Lamborghinis to play with that weren't on their insurance.

The show still has a lot of road to fill in its 10-episode run, but the last segment alone proves it has some potential to be, as Clarkson, Hammond and May have said countless time, "brilliant."

'Top Gear' airs Sun., 10PM ET on The History Channel

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To me it felt like buying a fake Rolex, yes it looks and feels like a Rolex but the working parts aren't a Rolex. That's how I felt watching this show. The guys were trying too hard to be funny and make you feel like you were watching the UK version. Sorry, guys it didn't work. You can't remake a masterpiece. If I were the History Channel, I would just shelf the next nine episodes!

November 22 2010 at 2:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The first thing they need to do is fire the hosts. While they're searching for new ones they need to call the BBC and find out how their steadycam works for the cockpit of cars, as these guys clearly don't have that concept down pat... the shudder of the cameras throughout each test tonight was really shoddy and cheap looking.

I wasn't entertained by this show in the least.

This should be on NBC and should be hosted by Leno and 2 other guys that could hold their own with him. Now that would be a Top Gear from America worth watching.

November 22 2010 at 1:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think all 3 of these guys are new to the TV presenter world. The Top Gear classic hosts do TV regularly, I'm not sure about Clarkson, but who cares he's awesome.

The commercial breaks definitely hurt the flow. Everything has to be cut super tight - hence the Buzz awkwardness.

Can they please pay for real music? That cheap sh!t sounds like cheap sh!t. If your going to copy the original go full tilt.

The audio needs to be cleaned up. And they need to steal some Discovery camera crews.

Hopefully the hosts will grow into it and loosen up. Or they can replace some them.

TG America can work, there's potential here. But it needs some serious polishing. You know if Discovery had it, it wouldn't kowtow to average Americans. It would be ballsy, shiny and really well produced.

November 22 2010 at 12:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It showed no originality and had what has to be the dullest hosts on any car show. How anyone could make a Viper and three Lambos boring is beyond me, but they did it. If it doesn't improve drastically over the next few episodes it won't last beyond the next few episodes.

November 22 2010 at 11:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Frank's comment

"dullest hosts on any car show."

Have you seen PBS' Motorweek?

November 22 2010 at 12:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Adam Ferrara is horrible, I can't help think the show would be twice as good with Adam Carolla (Did pilot episode). Carolla is funnier and is more tell it like it is, ie. Clarkson. For being an actual actor Ferrara felt rigid, while Tanner Fost actually came across more relaxed and professional.

November 25 2010 at 12:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I felt like three members of the audience snuck up on stage and were playing "pretend Top Gear" while Jezza, Hamster and Captain Slow were off at tea.

Agree about copying things down to almost the last detail, it just didn't work. At least they didn't introduce their Stig with a "some say..." and have a corner called Hammerhead on their track. The Lambo film was ok but everything else left me cold.

November 22 2010 at 11:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Atticus Draco

-but the need to spell out every aspect of the show almost completely killed its spontaneity-

You're being generous by saying 'almost'

I agree with your assessment of the show,,
Apache vs the cobra,,, AWKWARD

The segment with Buzz,, again,, AWKWARD!

I was counting the show off until they started driving those Lamborghinis,, HOLY MOLY!
That saved the episode for me

I wish they would have addressed the Balboni vibrating the way it ,, that shouldnt have done that!!

November 22 2010 at 11:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Atticus Draco's comment

I love the UK Top Gear. That show makes me have goosebumps every time I watch it, this Show, I almost shut it off after 5 minutes. I may have my view clouded by the UK version, but there was no real humor, it was way too scripted, and Way to PC!!! I think they need to get rid of that tanner dude. Clarkson tells it as he sees it. I will be Honest. I am a Fat American. tanner seems to be doing a news broadcast. There was no heart or emotion to anything he did...

The Only thing that makes me want to watch the next one was the Lambo clip. The clip for the next show does intrigue. I do hope there is more humor, more emotion, and LESS PCness

November 22 2010 at 11:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Atticus Draco

lol,, like you,, i had my finger on the channel button,, "Let's see how the football game is going"

You know,, during the Apache vs the Cobra segment,,
i was thinking to myself,, "Here's what i would do if i was being chased by an Apache",, i mean i was really thinking of a strategy,, and what do these fools do,, THEY STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF AN OPEN FACED BRIDGE!! LOL,, WTF?!?

i got mixed signals from that!
i mean realistically,, you dont have a frickin' chance with a GDmn COBRA,,, and after the bridge maneuver,, i couldnt decide,, is this a spoof on the given situation or what?!?
"Am i supposed to laff with 'em or laff at 'em?!?!?"

November 22 2010 at 12:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Did they have to copy soo much of the original? The tame racing driver is the stig, they yell "and across the line" at the end of time trials and star drives. Too many supercars. The overly enthusiastic live crowd?

This is America lets see hot rods, muscle cars and pick up trucks. Not foreign imports.

November 22 2010 at 10:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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