• Oct 19, 2010
Top Gear USA runs with the bulls – Click above to watch video after the jump

On Monday, October 18th 2010, Michael Harley and I had the opportunity to attend a taping of an episode of the upcoming Top Gear USA series. As we all know by now, the show is a new version of the BBC original and as a huge fan of that show, my expectations were set to "neutral" for the American spin-off. Harley and I entered an old airplane hangar located on the former El Toro Marine Base in Irvine, California and were immediately impressed by what we saw.

Hit the jump for our impressions.
...these three are real car guys enjoying amazing machines.
The Top Gear set is a cool site to behold, but not entirely original. Two older vehicles, clearly used in some sort of challenge, were parked in between a few supercars. Outside of the hanger our eyes quickly focused on a souped-up pickup truck, a handful of high-end sports cars and a few other random vehicles.

Once the audience settled in around the stage, we were greeted by Richard Porter, head writer for the British version. He told us to be patient with this new show because, quite frankly, the first few seasons of the original Top Gear were "total s#*t." He went on to say he was instantly impressed with what Top Gear USA has managed in a very short amount of time.




Up next we got to hear from the three hosts: Tanner Foust, Adam Ferrara and Rutledge Wood. Most automotive fans know Tanner, and he plays the straight man of the group. Rutledge Wood covers NASCAR for Speed Channel and is a Southern native. Strangely enough, he seems to prefer foreign project cars (such as the VW diesel pickup he once owned and a 1983 Honda Civic wagon he plans to rebuild). Ferrara is a comedian whose work is most prominently seen on the television show Rescue Me. He came off as quick-witted and managed some pretty good laughs from the crowd, crew and other hosts. The trio has already developed a solid chemistry and were perpetually joking with each other when the cameras weren't rolling. More importantly, they're not trying to mimic the roles of Clarkson, May and Hammond. All three have their own personalities, which came through loud and clear during off-camera discussions and interactions with the audience, including a few pokes at whoever parked a Prius in the lot outside.

The reviews are highly-stylized and the result is pure automotive pornography.
The American version has all the elements that we love so much with the original Top Gear. The reviews are highly-stylized and the result is pure automotive pornography. But more importantly, these three are real car guys enjoying amazing machines. Besides the usual supercar fun, the show features ridiculous challenges which produce equally ridiculous results and lots of laughs. Having signed my life away, I can't divulge what I saw them doing, but some aspects should be familiar to longtime fans while other elements are totally new. And of course, the Stig is there as well, showing celebrities how to handle the track in a Suzuki SX4.

People were quick to bash the idea of a Top Gear USA when the show was first announced, and while we understand the knee-jerk reaction (particularly after seeing the detritus shoveled out by Russian and Australia), this Americanized show shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. There's room for two top-notch automotive entertainment shows, and while the British version will always be number one in my heart, I'll completely embrace Top Gear USA on the History Channel with open arms when it airs at the end of November.


Second Opinion:

Many people have developed strikingly strong opinions about Top Gear USA – even before the first episode hits the screen. Interested in digesting the show on my own, I joined Jeff and attended the taping at the old El Toro airfield in Southern California. After five hours, I left impressed.

Like Jeff, I signed a wicked NDA, so all I can report is that the show is fast-paced, interesting and there's solid chemistry among the three hosts (who seemed to genuinely enjoy each other's company as they pulled pranks on each other during taping and when the cameras were off). The vehicles in the spotlight will appeal to both hardcore enthusiasts and those who are more interested in the various automotive antics dreamt up by the show's production team (most original and a few we've seen before). While there's plenty of humor, most of it comes at the expense of one of the hosts – often through the destruction of something mechanical.

Top Gear USA mirrors many aspects of the original show, and it's very entertaining, but as expected, this isn't the original Top Gear. The new show is American and we have our own unique perspectives and odd senses of humor. That said, don't hold your breath waiting for a witty Clarkson comment... just sit back and enjoy. I did.

- Michael Harley


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  • 84 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      so when does the show air?
        • 4 Years Ago
        I was wondering that too. I think the Variety column said it debuts in November, but nobody seems to be saying when it kicks off or what time slot. My sarcastic guess will be monday's at 9 eastern.
      • 4 Years Ago
      AB's opinion means nothing to me until I see the show.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I was in the same audience and I'd say the review is spot on. I wish I could talk more about specifics, but the NDA was pretty clear on the consequences. Go in with an open mind and I think you may end up entertained.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The UK version is quite possibly my favorite show on TV. I will certainly watch the American version but I remain skeptical. I just have a hard time believing that the American version will stand up to the constant comparisons to the UK version. On the surface, this may sound unfair but, IMO, if the producers didn't want to deal with the comparisons, they shouldn't have attached the shows. Face it, they want the up-side of working off the solid reputation of a great show but don't want to have to deal with the comparisons. You can't have it both ways. If all you want is to produce a great American car based show, go ahead and make one, and don't call it Top Gear America. If you want the audience to judge the show on it's own merits, then don't tie it into another show.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Hope it will be a success.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I just got back from today's taping, and as others who've also gone with tempered expectations, it's pretty clearly not going to be total crap. They showed the 'films' bits between segment tapings, and all the low-angle, helicopter and other over-the-top production for the road tests/challenges are all intact. I was actually hoping for a bit more originality; there was one segment that was directly cloned from one out of Series 7 or 8.

      They've spent the last several months putting the location films together, and it seems like they're taping all the studio stuff for the 10 initial-order episodes in 2 weeks. Somewhat ironically, the weather has actually been rather British (cool and moist) the last couple of days, so the Power Laps and Star-in-Car segments will look also look familiar in that regard.
      jepsum 3
      • 3 Years Ago
      The stuff they used to fill the car was mulch not manure. It is just something I noticed. I still like the show. Please comment.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Give it up !
      It's a cheap knock off like a kit car
      They are trying way to hard to be like the original !
      Sure Tanner can driver but he's a NERD and the other guys are even worse not to mention the content sucks !!!!!
        • 4 Years Ago
        The show hasn't aired, so how can you judge the content?

        Also, "Sure Tanner can driver but he's a NERD and the other guys are even worse."

        Have you ever even watched British Top Gear? You do realize that James May has a show about toys, right? Like Lego, Erector sets and slot cars.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Ah yes, the typical idiot who watches a movie trailer and judges it as an Oscar winner before ever watching it...
        • 4 Years Ago
        Besides, I don't know if you've noticed...but nerds are having a lot of fun lately. Nerds are in. Nerds are making bank.

        So, Tanner's a nerd. He gets to co-star on Top Gear: USA. What about you? (Or me?)
      • 4 Years Ago
      Just to defend our version, TG Aus has been rather successfully rebooted recently and the second series of the original try was getting pretty good before it got bought out. The first couple of episodes of the new ones are available through the usual channels if you're interested.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Why do I have a weird feeling that this show is going to SUCK?!?!?!?! The UK version of the show has so much going for it. Humor, cinematography, history, humor, education... I'm afraid that the US show is going to be nothing but humor. I hope it's not going to be Americas Stupidest Videos on wheels. The UK version is about quality where the US version will be about getting the most viewership for the LEAST amount of money. And that is why the US version will fail:(
        • 4 Years Ago
        no.. it didn't feel like that at all. Their was great cinematography, great writing, great cars, great hosts, great sets.. etc. Just think of it as Top Gear but without the british accents.
        • 4 Years Ago
        They are sticking close to that same style, but with a different viewpoint and mindset... give it a chance.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I was at the afternoon taping on Sunday the 17th... and I can help reiterate that it looks like this show has promise. They've kept very close to the original UK show and the hosts are good together...
        • 4 Years Ago
        I can't wait for this to start.

        Hopefully it will make the time pass faster when waiting for updated episodes on the Beeb Seeya =D
        • 4 Years Ago
        I was wondering what was going on that day. I was at El Toro on Sunday for a pet expo thing with the gf and when we left I saw several interesting cars driving out including a Lotus Evora, Viper SRT10 and EVO X.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I was at the 19th 8am taping. Long shoot. Thunderstorm shut down the set for a while, and with any taping, set changes and re-shoots took up a lot of time. Overall, I enjoyed what I saw, and can't wait to see the finished product.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm sure some will still bash it even before seeing it. I'm gonna keep an open mind until I can watch it.
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