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“Top Gear” (BBC) - {USA} - (1)
Daniel Ruwe
Studio: BBC Worldwide/Warner
Release Date:
July 19, 2011
Special Features:

See Below


According to Wikipedia, Top Gear is one of the most watched television shows on earth, with over 350 million viewers. That seems a little steep. Except the citation goes to a Reuters piece. So evidently, somehow, Top Gear manages to a) have an audience greater than the entire population of the United States, and b) at the same time, be almost completely unknown in the US. ***

US TV producers saw the success of British imports such as The Office and decided they wanted in on the action. NBC ordered a pilot. Top Gear USA was slated as a midseason replacement. Then they remembered the lack of success of British shows like Coupling and Life On Mars. Damn. Maybe British imports weren’t automatically popular. Then Knight Rider got canceled. Damn again. Maybe car shows weren’t what America wanted. The show was canceled. ****

The Discovery Channel picked up the scraps, and cobbled together a ten episode series that ran in the winter of 2011. It wasn’t Shark Week but it got enough viewers for a second season. ***

As far as Top Gear has any premise at all (and it usually doesn’t), it’s Monty Python but with cars. Cars get raced, reviewed, and destroyed in various and sundry creative ways. Sometimes celebrities come on and race. Sometime the hosts analyze the news. It’s all fun. ***

Thing is, the success of a show like Top Gear revolves around the skill of its hosts. Tanner Foust, Adam Ferrara, Rutledge Wood do their best, but they don’t have many skills. They’re nice guys, and they try their hardest. They really do. It’s just that they’re all basically the same guy, and their target audience seems to be hipsters who like NASCAR for some reason. ***

Actually, make that lazy hipsters who like NASCAR. (But who don’t like technical specs. You might think it is impossible to do a show on supercars while discussing nothing under the hood. You have not watched the first few episodes of Top Gear US). The writing is weak. The pranks and friendly gibes are unconvincing. Ever seen a community theater production starring a bunch of well-meaning but ultimately talentless actors? That’s the experience here. ***

When you watch the Discovery Channel, you notice that most of the shows, while usually pretty good, don’t have very big budgets. That’s not a problem if you are filming sharks, but more of a problem if your show is about cars, which even at their cheapest are still kind of expensive, and even more of a problem if your show usually involves wrecking them. Top Gear US features some of the popular “challenges” from its British parent. Unfortunately, the challenges skew more towards racing people on bikes and less towards launching cars into space. So the show consists of not particularly talented people doing fairly mundane things in pretty cool cars. ***

On the bright side…well, there are only ten episodes to get through. And one of them is a best of episode. So if you’re a masochist who forces himself to watch every DVD in the Walmart bargain bin, or are compulsively unable to not watch car shows, you won’t lose much time on this show. And the editing team did a pretty good job—the series always looks really nice. And while none of the hosts shows much talent, they eventually start to feel likable in a goofy sort of way. ***

Image and Sound:

The 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers look nice and crisp, and colors generally look good. There is some noise and banding in spaces, but the DVD transfer mostly looks good. The soundtrack is presented in 2.0 stereo, which is decent, but not great. The dialogue is always clearly audible, and the music and sound effects are done well.

Special Features:

There isn’t a whole lot in the way of special features in this set. There is an audio commentary from the hosts for the ninth (and last filmed) episode, “America’s Toughest Trucks.” Considering the whole show is basically an audio commentary, it is hard to argue with the hosts when they joke that anyone watching the commentary needs a hobby. There are also nine webisodes, as well as a half hour length Poolside Chat With the Hosts.

Final Words:

Top Gear US has its heart in the right place, but it really isn’t a very good show, especially since the much superior UK version is readily available. There isn’t any reason anyone would want to own this show, unless they were related to someone involved in the making. They probably wouldn’t want to watch it even then, though the discs do make good coasters.


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