Before I start my review of the premier episode of Top Gear America I just want to suggest that this week be named something to the effect of "Automotive Enthusiast Week". First we get Top Gear, then Gran Turismo 5, and then Thanksgiving, which for many of us means hiding from our families in the garage. I just wanted to throw that out there...
On to the topic at hand.
I'll be honest, I had extremely low expectations for Top Gear America. What little hope I had for the show was lost when I read that Tanner Foust was going to be a host. From his past performances it was clear he belongs in a mute Stig-like roll and not a leading man like Jeremy Clarkson. But slowly, and I can't properly emphases how slow, I started to get excited when I learned about their usage of the tried-and-true format but not a direct copy. In my opinion, that's the best decision they could have made.
Fast forward to yesterday, Nov. 21. I had seen then the trailers, read the opinion pieces, and waited patiently. It was judgement day.
The episode started slowly because, understandably, everything needed explaining. It was redundant for us seasoned Top Gear fans, but essential for success in an oblivious market. The host's interactions seemed unnatural and overly scripted, which was many's concern because the chemistry of the English boys really makes Top Gear unique. That being said, I think there is hope.
The Viper vs. Cobra segment was a remake of the Lotus vs. Apache segment but not nearly as well done. One would think that if they had a town's cooperation to rip a V10 with wheels through its streets the driving would have been much more intense, but there was a lot of driving shown at conservative speeds and stop signs obeyed. Personally, that's not what I wanted to see.
A glaring difference between the US and UK shows became clear during the segment, and it's a significant one; the cinematography was no where near on-point. More on that later.
After that segment they put an ACR Viper in the hands of the American Stig, which as stereotypes and humor would have it, looked nearly as portly as the English boys suggested.
The 1.6 mile test track at El Torro Air Station in California seems pretty alright. It's a bit more technical looking and the track's surface looks fairly poor, which is good news because it will highlight well developed suspension systems and manufacturer's tire choice.
The segment that followed was a copied but important segment, "a star in a reasonably priced car" or on TG USA, "big star, small car." I about shat when they introduced Buzz Aldren. What an amazing celebrity for a premier episode, but how do you do better than that?! Aldren is one of, if not the most famous American hero/icon in our country's history and let's face it, Adam Ferrar's interview was absolutely terrible. Aldren was engaging but got very little time to speak, and Ferrar's talking points where in the neighborhood of good, but they needed polishing. I was thoroughly disappointed.
The last segment was the episode's saving grace.
Without going in to too much detail that boys chose their favorite Lambo, told us why they chose it, then did a standing mile pissing match to declare the winner. Sure, a standing mile isn't a great test but who hasn't wanted to try it?
Again, this segment saved the episode. The cinematography was exponentially better, the host's interactions were more genuine/less contrived, and it was fun to watch. This in and of itself reignited my hope for this show. I don't expect them to catch their stride for another couple episodes, at worst next season if there is one. However, comparatively, TG USA is leaps and bounds better than early seasons of the original.
I hope they get the chance to polish the show, I truly do. I would love to see a battle of the Top Gear's.