WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TAKE A BRITISH SHOW AND LAUNCH IT IN THE UNITED STATES? IT AIN’T EXACTLY AMERICAN IDOL…

Clarkson, left, May, center, and Hammond, right.  The original Top Gear brigade.

Clarkson, left, May, center, and Hammond, right. The original Top Gear brigade. Photo courtesy Top Gear’s Facebook page.

We have long been planning to branch out the available topics in this blog.  It starts here.

Television is, in the United States, nearing a religious fanaticism.  After all, we are the country that developed the convenience “TV Dinner” to facilitate more time in front of the idiot box.  Now don’t get me wrong, I have some favorite TV shows, that if I am scheduled to miss, I will record.  But being as I developed most of my friendships in a town where the people are so two faced and self-involved, I have plenty of time to make my schedule around certain shows, like ‘Big Bang Theory’, arguably one of the most well written shows on television today.

This does bring me to my on-going beef with Chuck Lorre, developer of shows like ‘Big Bang Theory’, ‘Mike & Molly’ and the one that festers my contention with Lorre, ‘Two And A Half Men’.  My issue with that show is, Lorre screwed it up by letting Charlie Sheen’s personal meltdown interfere with the integrity of the show.

No one here has felt like their world is spinning out of control?  If you say you haven’t you are a liar.

Replacing Sheen with Ashton Kutcher is like replacing Mark Harmon of NCIS with Steve-O.  You just can’t take it seriously.  Kutcher’s character, Walden Schmidt is nothing more than a rich, grown up Michael Kelso from ‘That 70’s Show’.

But the show I want to talk about has nothing to do with Chuck Lorre, but rather is a British import that integrates two of America’s favorite things:  television and cars.  That show is Top Gear.  We will be comparing the U.K. original to its American bastardization.  Well, I guess that sentence more or less gives away the tone of this review…

Let’s look at the shows hosts, or as they say across the pond, presenters..  The British show features Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.  Clarkson has been a part of the show since it’s first generation inception in 1988.  All three are journalists and car enthusiasts, as well as having other varied interests; Clarkson enjoys wine, plays drums, and hates the green movement and government encroachment of personal rights.

My kind of guy!!!

I also have a personal soft spot for James May.  May studied flute and piano, which makes him another musician and gear head.  While the show has dubbed him “Captain Slow” I have seen May exceed speeds of 180 miles per hour on a runway/test track.  When the presenters are traveling on treks assigned by the producers, know as challenges, they are given a budget each to buy a vehicle for the journey.  May has the reputation for buying staid, dependable cars like Volvos as opposed to flashier, faster cars like Mercedes Benz’s, BMW’s, and the like.

One show May was charged with presenting had him commandeer an area in the Royal Garden Show and recruit people to fill it with fake, plasticine (another British invention, LIKE TOP GEAR)  flowers.  A travesty for most show goers, riveting entertainment for the rest of us.  This was May’s show about toys, a show that featured an episode about a house built entirely out of Legos.  Running water was an issue…

Lastly, and in terms of height, least, there is Richard Hammond.  Hammond hosted a knock-off show similar to Mike Rowe’s ‘Dirty Jobs’,  ‘Crash Course’ in which Hammond would take on fearless positions for the sake of job experience and adrenalin rush.  Hammond often teams with Clarkson to sabotage Captain Slow’s (May’s) efforts to triumph in the challenges on Top Gear.  More often than not, when in hot climates, they will disconnect his vehicle’s air conditioning, or give his engine a cheese exfoliation.

But there does not exists the sense of maliciousness between presenters that does exists between the hosts of America’s Top Gear.  When Adam Ferrara, Tanner Foust, and Rutledge Wood have neither the real world experience nor the history to bring the sophistication to the American Top Gear that the brits have.  The English version features interpersonal relationships built on good natured ribbing and playful discourse.  Ferrara, Foust and Wood are capable of killing each other in that grand American spirit of hot headedness, anger and temper.  It seems they enjoy hurting each other for the simple sake of their own sadism and schadenfreude.  Clarkson, Hammond and May like to bust each other’s ass, but in the most recent series of the English Top Gear, where they are traveling to find the true source of the Nile River in Africa, when Clarkson’s BMW estate car (station wagon) gets stuck in some off-road mud, he asks to be pulled out and Hammond replies ‘No’, yet the very next cut shows Hammond pulling Clarkson out.

The few American shows I have watched (as I truly cannot stomach the dialog these louts use), their inter-personal relationships rival George H. Bush and the late Saddam Hussein.  They’d drop an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile on each other’s heads to get the personal chuckle.

I would love to tell you more about the hosts of the American Top Gear, but their bios are incomplete at best.  Granted, Tanner Foust is, or was, a professional race car and stunt car driver, Rutledge Wood is, or was, a racing analyst (meaning those who can’t do, talk about), but Ferrara is merely a comedian and actor.  You may recall him from the FX series ‘Rescue Me’ as Chief Nelson.  None of this equals the qualifications that Clarkson has alone.

As I mentioned, during that trek through Africa, the British boys stopped for a night in a hotel in Africa.  Not exactly five star accommodations over there.  So the boys decided they would buy supplies and build their station wagons into rolling hotels.  The craftsmanship was startling.  Hammond built a working mobile kitchen in the back of a Subaru, May built a workshop and library in his Volvo, and Clarkson replicated a white linen and downfeather Miami Beach hotel room in his BMW.

The Americans were charged with something similar.  One (I don’t even bother to keep their names straight) American troglodyte fastened a two story wooden structure to the top of an older model American car that some Californian would have loved to own to circumvent the California emissions standards there.  In one recent episode, they even ripped off the use of the Top Gear racing specialist, The Stig.  Mind you, the nickname Stig is decidedly British in origin and my personal knowledge traces it back to late 60’s early 70’s British television icons Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  What would the Americans need with an on-staff racing driver if they have Foust, right?

Just one of the many useless features of the American Top Gear.

The British version is informative, entertaining, and educational.  They have guests who drive reasonably priced cars around a private race track and compete for times, whose times are posted on a competition board.  It is fascinating to watch competitive types like Gordon Ramsey compete against Simon Cowell, then to have Cowell cattily remark that Ramsey’s time was slower because he’s fat!

To be honest, I could not withstand an entire episode of the American version to tell if there is an interview, and if there is, who would conduct it?  Ferrara?  He’s an actor, not a journalist, and Clarkson has interview shows in his background.  The English version is far more utilitarian, versatile and civilized.  An example of the dry wit, cosmopolitan sense of humor and wicked spirit of adventure, check out this clip, hilarious!

While the American show is created by BBC Worldwide, the producers missed the mark with this reincarnation.  It airs on History channel, consult your local listings and cable guides for when.  But if I have to honest, and I do, this time slot would be better utilized to air a program such as ‘Watching Paint Dry’ or ‘Spending Time With Grannie’ or maybe ‘The Pudding Experience’.  Those shows might be more entertaining…

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