• Nov 22, 2010
Not The Original, But Not Bad, Either



The logo. The exotic car-filled studio. The engine block coffee table. The Stig. The Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. It all seemed so familiar. The inaugural episode of Top Gear USA aired Sunday night at 10pm EST/9C on the History Channel with a lot of what made the original British show an international hit, but without those three dynamic blokes that have made the UK version so great. Or the amazing producers who put that show together each week. Instead, we get new producers, a new set, and new promise in hosts Tanner Foust, Adam Ferrara and Rutledge Wood.

The first episode of Top Gear USA started off with a bang by transitioning from an original Shelby Cobra to the best modern interpretation of the big engine on wheels: the Dodge Viper. The American-made missile was driven by Tanner Foust who was charged with outrunning a Cobra attack helicopter. The Viper was fitted with a missile detection simulator that showed when the supercar was being missile-locked and "hit" by the chopper. To win this competition, Foust and his navigator/co-host Rutledge Wood needed to blast across town and back before being hit by the chopper three times. We won't tell you how it ends, but we will say this first stunt showed that while the camera work and editing isn't yet up to Top Gear UK levels of excellence, the content is still engaging and fun to watch.

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Top Gear USA Viper vs Cobra helicopterThe second big segment involved a trio of Lamborghini models: the LP550-2 Valentino Balboni, the Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera and the Murciélago LP670-SV. The object was to see which of the three hosts could achieve the highest speed in a standing mile. This segment was arguably the episode's best, and it showed that Wood, Foust and Ferrara actually do have some chemistry that's worth watching. And the moving pictures looked great too, though it didn't hurt to have three beautiful raging bulls parading in front of a untouched desert backdrop.

In between those bookends were two more Top Gear staples: the Power Lap and The Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. The latter has been renamed Big Star, Small Car for American audiences, and the first guest was astronaut and moon walker Buzz Aldrin. Adam Ferrara handled the interviewing duties and did a fine job, though we're surprised Top Gear didn't go all-out for its first episode and get a big Hollywood star for its little car. As for the Power Lap, since the first segment featured the Viper, our new American Stig took a Viper ACR around the Top Gear USA test track and set what appeared to be a tough time to beat, though with no other cars having generated lap times, it's impossible to know until future episodes populate the board.

Great cars and compelling stunts are a great place to start, but anyone who watches Top Gear knows that the show is all about the hosts. Ferrara, Wood and Foust appear to have decent banter out of the gate, and all three are likable guys. Compared to Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, the new trio isn't anywhere near as polished, nor as entertaining, but that kind of chemistry only comes after many years in front of the camera together. Still, the U.S. hosts fared well in Show No. 1, though their in-studio camera work needs the most polishing, as there were times when all three looked a bit nervous and unsure of themselves. They'll get better over time, and even if they don't, it won't necessarily kill the show.

After one episode of Top Gear USA, we're fairly impressed. The key to watching (and enjoying) the show is to not constantly compare the hour-long extravaganza to the UK version. We know that's tough, if only because the new show has been modeled so closely after the original. The fact is that every iteration of Top Gear will always pale compared to the original. It's like watching a movie based on your favorite book; there's almost no way the motion picture will be better than the paperback and your imagination. But in terms of a car show available to watch in the U.S., Top Gear USA definitely has the the goods to keep us watching... at least for nine more weeks.


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  • 183 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      No humor, no substance! I am so not liking this show. The hosts are dry and not one bit witty. Also, I am starting to take the Toyota comments personally. All I drive is Toyotas, my Camry is a 95 (paid for, no car payment!!) All original and going on 400,000 miles on it. I would love to put my 85 Supra up against any of the cars (or trucks) that they are trying to slam the Toyota name against!!! I really miss the BBC guys, they were fair in their observations, always!!! If I get my way, this won't get a 2nd season!!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      I watched it. It wasn't half bad. I don't WANT it to be TG UK. We already have one and it's brilliant. I want it to be TG USA and I think it will accomplish that. Going to give them time to develop and keep watching. That is all.
      • 4 Years Ago
      please do something original,you dont have to copy everything done on the bbc version . the blind guys dog really summed up the driving ability of at least 2 of the host when he peed on stage.
      Rustem Mesutoglu
      • 3 Years Ago
      WHO ARE THESE GUYS???? IT WAS BORRRRRRIIIIINNNNNNGGGGG...... THE FAT GUY WHO WAS DRIVING THE LAMBORGHINI MURCIELAGO,I DONT REMEMBER HIS NAME, BUT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON A COOKING SHOW. I FOUND COMMENTS SUCH AS "THIS CAR HANDLES INCREDIBLE" OR " " IT SEEMS LIKE IT IS ON RAILS" ARE REALLY STUPID, NON INFORMATIVE AND BORING. HOW ELSE A LAMBO SUPPOSE TO HANDLE?? NOT INCREDIBLE, NOT LIKE IT IS ON RAILLS.....HOPEFULLY THIS SHOWS GETS BETTER IN THE FUTURE AND HE CAN COME UP WITH BETTER WORDS TO DESCRIBE HIS DRIVING EXPERIENCE.......
      • 4 Years Ago
      It'll take time to develop some character. Buzz Aldrin was a weak choice for first guest. Interview seemed awkward and dull. Outdoor camera shots were too "choppy" with distracting fast cuts not allowing the eye to linger on the cars. Superimposing shots is also distracting. When drivers are on the track the graphic blocks some of the view. We don't need a graphic. It's not a video game. We just want to see the line the driver is taking through the corner. We want to see the car. Let's keep the camera work simple. Let the cars and hosts be the focus.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Paul Tracy would be a better person on this show. Battle of the super cars people would have been a good option.
      • 4 Years Ago
      After seeing 30 minutes I had to shut it off. Horrible cast no personality, I think my 2 year old trying the ride the dog like a horse was more interesting. It needs to have more of a outlawish funny cast. These guys seam like they are a bunch teenagers who have been locked in there mothers basement reading magazines and studying HP numbers so they can quote them on the local car forum. The great thing about Clarkson, Hammond, and May is that although they promote the cars they are featuring; they also pick them apart show the flaws of each car. These jokers rant and rave about how great these cars are like have never seen one up close until right then. I cant see myself watching it again as I car enthusiast I feel that they really bombed this one. Come on we tried it once we just cant compete with Clarksons Top Gear. So do us all a favor and quit trying I give this an Epic fail for the History channel. Top Gear US = Sh!t
      • 4 Years Ago
      Top Gear UK is such a great program. Will have to take these comments about the US version with a grain of salt.

      http://www.mikesautorepairlg.com
      • 4 Years Ago
      I thought their opening with an American sports car being chased by an American attack helicopter was great. Sure, it was a little fake, but some of the scenes were undeniably awesome, and it sort of gave me the impression they were indeed trying to create a uniquely American version of the show.

      But then the English aspects of the show appeared (the Stig, the celebrity interview , the lap times), and it all sort of fell apart for me. None of the hosts were natural during those segments, and downright awkward at points (the interview, the introduction of the mythical Stig, etc.). They lacked real emotion and excitement, and it's probably because they're trying so hard to re-create the English show that they're acting more than they should be. It just seemed overly contrived at parts, especially when Wood yelled at them to stop the car to ask "have we eaten lunch" (or whatever he said) during their ride in the Suzuki.

      They still have the opportunity to take the show in their own direction, yet retain the great aspects of the English show. For example, instead of doing the Big Star Small Car lap segment, why not have the celebrities do a quarter mile in a Corvette or a Mustang? The drag strips are uniquely American, and it would give the show more of its own identity.

      I'm not even bothered by the selection of the hosts or the production value. That stuff will get better in time. Just make it Top Gear USA and not America's Reenactment of Top Gear UK.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think I've watched every episode of Top Gear, starting with Season 7, at least twice, so my perspective is a bit slanted, though I live in the US. I even have a custom tag on my car that says "NOTSTIG." Needless to say, I am a fan.

      To me, the premiere episode felt like I was sitting through a middle school talent show, watching my friend's band covering Rolling Stones songs. I know that they probably have talent, but they really didn't do anything to demonstrate it by impersonating something that has already been done.

      I was hoping there would be some things that would decidedly different about this show, but I was disappointed there was not. The show was produced in nearly the exact same way as its British counterpart and even the camera pans to start every segment in the studio, showing the TV with the Top Gear logo were identical. They even used the same theme music.

      But, what probably disappointed me most was that little effort was put in to differentiate itself from the UK version. "...aaannnd across the line..." , "...all we know is he's called..." and so on.

      As far as the hosts...I did actually like Adam Ferrara (he seemed genuinely scared after his run in the Lambo) and Rutledge Wood (looks like he'll evolve as a good presenter), but Tanner Foust has absolutely nothing to offer. Some said that he was ineffective on his earlier show on Speed because of the format. It doesn't look like this format is any better for him. He just has no presence and no personality. The other two had some chemistry, but Tanner didn't fit in.

      In the end, the show is not different enough for me to not watch the UK version instead.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Oh, and forgot to mention that Tanner Faust playing the Jeremy Clarkson role, making every comment about the Viper into a similie (it's like...) just did not work for me.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Completely agree. Not sure about Rutledge, but I think Adam should be the lead. Tanner definitely needs to go. I don't see why they need him. He should just stick to Battle of the Supercars, he'd be in his element. A deuschy show with a deuschy host.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I liked it. I thought it was entertaining, and while they could've done pretty bad, I think they did a decent job overall. Yes it needs polish but I'm willing to be patient.

      I'll be watching next week.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Of course I'll give the show a second or third chance but I can't believe how lame episode #1 was overall, especially the chemistry between the three and their scripted attempts to be humorous or competitive with each other. And what's wrong with a small car? Star in a small car? What kind of message is that sending? Don't we all want better small cars? Also, a Tesla or a Focus RS is also a small car....so come on.
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