This past Tuesday night, Top Gear on History Channel resumed its second season with Big Rigs. The three hosts had to not only learn to drive the big rig trucks in Michigan, but transport ‘special’ cargo from Marshall to Kalamazoo. Fans of the UK series may recall the Lorry Driving Adventure. Indeed, there have been online lamentations about similarities between the series’ challenges, but I won’t get into that. I’ve posted not once, but twice about the differences between them. That horse is dead and sufficiently beaten, children. We’ve moved on.
The episode began with the hosts meeting their vehicles at the Eaton Automotive Proving Grounds in Marshall, which we remember fondly from Season One’s Beater Boot Camp. They seemed to be living out boyhood fantasies, enthusiastically taking control of the behemoths, after a fashion. Their trucking chops were tested by skill and speed races. Easily, the most entertaining was completion of a loaded hill start. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then it definitely made these guys more competitive…and juvenile. There was destruction of not just personal property but almost of actual persons. Pretty much, typical Top Gear.
The danger escalated when the vehicles ventured out into the streets. We were treated to scenes of glorious road rage, even from the amiable Rutledge Wood. This may be the most he’s been bleeped in a single episode; while, Adam Ferrara’s colourful outbursts were sublime. Tanner Foust (of all people), was responsible for one of the more shocking moments, while behind the wheel of Optimus Prime a red, 1989 Peterbilt 379. History Channel must have good coverage for collateral damage, as he made one of the worst right-turns in his career. There (suspiciously) wasn’t much footage, which will hopefully turn up as DVD extras or web exclusives. This episode also featured the first fire, that wasn’t related to Adam Ferrara’s now infamous aggressive driving style.
Episodes like this one squarely put the focus, on the presenters’ unit cohesion. Luckily, these three guys are more at ease with each other than ever; more so, during the challenges than the scripted bits. Some of those have been downright painful to watch; and, this episode was no different. Adam and Rutledge’s humorous but clearly scripted exchanges did break up the audience’s blank stares, a tiny bit. While Tanner, the series’ designated straight man, often looked like there was gravel in his etnies. He never hams it up for the camera, like the other two. Unless in a vehicle, where he’s most at ease. Regardless, when they elicit genuine reactions from him, whether anger, shock, disgust or misery, we get television gold. Despite its flaws, overall it was a highly entertaining premiere. If the subsequent episodes can surpass this one, then this version of Top Gear may become something that’s not only watchable but recommendable, for even the most discriminating motoring enthusiasts.
The big star in the small car was writer/director/actor Edward Burns. The critically acclaimed multi-hyphenate seemed to have a really good time, on the track and in the hanger for a brief interview with Adam. Rutledge and Adam interacted with fans online via Twitter and Facebook, throughout the episode (9pm EST/PST respectively). They answered questions and the History Channel’s online media guru beat stagnation with questions for viewers. Tanner didn’t participate because he’s currently in the Philippines to film car stunts for The Bourne Legacy. However, he responds to all (yes, all) tweets. In case you missed any of it, the episode will be repeated on Friday February 17, 2012.