First, there are the hosts who sadly lack the -- shall we say -- very strong personalities of British hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. I'm fairly familiar with comedians but Adam Ferrara is a name I've never heard; apparently he was a regular on the Denis Leary firefighter series RESCUE ME and appeared in such unseen-by-me films as PAUL BLART: MALL COP. This all makes no difference if, on TOP GEAR U.S., he's funny and a great host. Unfortunately, he's more annoying than funny and his hosting abilities (like most comedians) leaves a lot to be desired. For example, the first episode features Ferrara interviewing Buzz Aldrin: their "big star in a small car". The interview was embarrassing and awkward to the point of being unwatchable. Somebody must've taken note because the second episode features Rutledge Wood doing the star interviewing this time; and Wood is a much more natural and relaxed interviewer. For comparison purposes, watch the Buzz Aldrin interview with Ferrara and then watch the Kid Rock interview with Wood -- miles apart! Ferrara suffers from a trap most comedians fall into when required to host a television programme: that you have to try to make every word that comes out of your mouth "funny". No one can do that and the constant straining for such a result tires the viewer and probably Ferrara as well. Tanner Foust and Rutledge Wood are OK in their roles but again remain strangely bland and awkward; although Wood's "aw shucks Southern man-child" routine is also laid on a little too thick and a little too often. After watching all 6 episodes, I can think that probably that fault can be laid at the feet of the producers/directors of the series who seem to be forcing the trio into mimicking the personalities and repartee of the British hosts. A big mistake since the segments when they do this are so obviously forced as to be annoying. However, when the three men forget themselves, relax and allow their own personalities to come through things get better and the show becomes more watchable. This brings us to the Stig. Whereas the possibly extra-terrestial tame racing driver is an integral part of the original show, here the American Stig is hardly used and, in fact, doesn't even appear in one or two episodes at all. Also, the hosts (and more probably producers of the show) have made no real effort to establish the mystique of this unknown pro racing driver whose face is never seen. The British show, of course, does the famous "some say he sleeps upside down like a bat" comments or that he has no concept of earth food. For viewers who have never seen the original programme, the American Stig must seem like just an anonymous hired hand in a helmet and white jumpsuit who test-drives cars. As previously mentioned, oddly enough the show suffers when it tries to follow the better British version too closely. The aforementioned attempts to cram the British personalities down the throats of the rather "un-fireworks-like" US hosts is so forced and awkward as to evoke pity for the three men. Also, sometimes the "wacky races" tasks given the trio can be too derivative. For example, one episodes has them duplicating EXACTLY the tasks given the British hosts when they were trying to prove that British Leyland made decent cars: the "rough road test with a collander of eggs suspended over the driver's head" test, the "emergency brake parking on an incline" test and the "filling the cars with water and having the men drive submerged around a track" test are all exactly duplicated. Why? We've seen that done by the Brits and it was a helluva lot funnier; in fact the familiarity with the original programme makes it even LESS funny and more annoying. So we have a programme which is not as funny as the original, not as entertaining as the original and basically a very pale copy.
However . . .
. . . as the series went on it actually got a little better -- to the point where now it is quite often watchable. Sure, there are still intensely awkward segments but as the three hosts start to relax into their roles they seem to be doing a better job of it. In fact, the more they emphasize the "American-ness" of this American version of a British show, the more successful they seem to be. The aforementioned near-plagiarism of the "British Leyland" segment shows the depths of the problem but such particularly "American-flavoured" segments as the "Moonshine Runner" race and the battle of the American trucks in Alaska were actually quite enjoyable. So what is my advice to the producers of the show for their next seasons? Well, first and foremost . . . let the hosts be themselves. Sure, they don't have much of a personality between them but that's certainly preferable to aping the personality of others. Also, be creative. I don't want to see any more duplications of races we've already seen on the original programme. Also, someone SHOULD be able to come up with at least one original idea for a programme segment which is unique to the US show. I know Hollywood is bankrupt of ideas but one can hope. And finally, let's make an effort to establish the otherworldliness and mystery of the Stig. If you're not gonna do that, why have him on the show at all. It doesn't make sense. So there you have it. A mostly negative review with a couple glimmers. As stated many times in this blog, I try to focus on the good and not heartlessly bash a movie or tv show. If TOP GEAR US was completely hopeless, I never would've written a thing about it here. However, a show with that much potential could actually work in the U.S. -- and that's something I never thought was possible (neither did Jay Leno) before I watched the US version. TOP GEAR US isn't a patch on the original and cannot hope to compare but, with the right creative minds behind it, COULD possibly be a worthwhile way to spend an hour. But that's a BIG "could".