I love cars, I really do. As a child, I had an extensive collection of Matchbox diecast vehicles: sports cars, pick-up trucks, sedans, SUV’s, fuel tankers, emergency vehicles (land and air) and of course, one British black cab with doors that actually opened. There was a tea set and dolls but the cars were most precious to me. Decades later, that love is still there. Not just for the tiny toys but the real McCoy’s as well. I don’t know how to fix them nor the science involved but there’s nothing like a beautifully-made automobile; and the only thing better than a beautiful car is driving one. By that, I mean finding a stretch of police-free road and turn it out. (Grown-ups know what that means.)
At this time, those of us with cable are blessed to have not one but two Top Gear series for our viewing pleasure. Unfortunately for some, one of them is a viewing displeasure and fans are fiercely divided online. Some of us are caught between a rock and a hard place because we watch them both. As I’ve said previously, “plastering how much you hate either series on social media is a colossal waste of time and energy.” It’s understandable that some fans of the US series would want to defend it, especially the Americans. There is one fundamental problem. They’re too different. It’s like trying to compare apple pie and shepherd’s pie. They’re both pie but that’s about it.
Having spent most of my life in a Commonwealth country with the benefit of growing up with British TV shows, I fully understand the ire raised by the American spin-off. On the other hand, having spent quite a bit of time in the US and in one of the country’s gear-head capitals (Daytona Beach, FL), I understand why the American spin-off is so appealing…to Americans. There are a number of things that the UK version is known for, that will probably definitely never happen in the US version and vice versa.
1) An American show will be partial to American cars. When people hear the words Motor and City put together, that means Detroit not Dorset. Cars are as much a part of classic Americana as apple pie. This country has a passionate car culture and a show that aims to be the premier motoring program will pay homage to US brands. When it comes onto GM, Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet it’s becomes a question of national pride. They will point out an American vehicle’s flaws but never curse its pedigree.
2) In America, racing cars means NASCAR first. To me it means rallying but right now in the USA, NASCAR is king and has many adoring subjects. Top Gear on History has their own NASCAR representative in the person of Rutledge Wood. His presence is almost a symbolic gesture that unlike the original series, NASCAR will not be mocked. In fact the Season One Moonshine Challenge was in honour of NASCAR’s origins. Again, it’s as American as apple pie.
3) There’s a heaping dose of political correctness in the American version. The hosts may make fun of each other (and Prius owners) but they won’t slander ethnic groups or developing countries. Perhaps it’s a lesson learned from the original series. Shock-jock TV presenting may be accepted as edgy in Europe but it will not be acceptable in the US. Precious advertisers will drop the show or it could get pulled off the air altogether. The show’s hosts are certainly not going to risk public condemnation or put endorsement earnings in jeopardy.
4) To be snarky, bratty, juvenile and competitive are must-have qualities for allTop Gear presenters. Unlike the current British cast that have been at it for over ten years, the US counterparts only have two years experience. They’re still trying to grab viewers and solidify the brand. Channel flickers would stop when they notice: a supercar plus “Hey isn’t that the guy from Rescue Me?” or “Hey isn’t he on NASCAR Smarts?” or “Hey isn’t that guy from X-Games?” Or they may notice that the men behind the wheel are having a great time and want to watch the fun…or the cars…or just the men. Whatever it is, Top Gear on History isn’t in the business of alienating potential fans with bitterness or old-fogey angst.
Just like films, songs or TV series, some things get lost in translation. There will never be anything to replicate British Top Gear – never has been and never will be. On February 14, 2012 Top Gear on History will premiere the second-leg of their second season (Did I say that right?). For weeks now, Adam Ferrara, Rutledge Wood and Tanner Foust have been hinting at big surprises that should greatly please the fans. I invite you to visit this blog again since I’ll be reviewing the new episodes and (God willing) live-tweeting during the broadcast. Believe me, I’ll definitely tell you how big the surprises really were and if this opinionated woman was greatly pleased.