Television show review: Top Gear – The History Channel rip off

By Michael Vass | November 22, 2010

What is the quietest trend in film and televsion? Copying material from one nation and presenting it to audiences in another as if it was original.

England and the U.S. are infamous for doing this to each other. Friends becomes Coupling (UK version) becomes Coupling (US version). Life on Mars (UK) becomes Life on Mars (US). There is even the award winning The Office, a smash in England before it got its Americanized copy.

As the very short and incomplete list above shows, most copies don’t translate. Which can be a shame as viewers in one nation may well miss a very good show because it’s not available in their country (or they don’t know it exists).

Top Gear (UK) is seen in over 30 countries, with more than 250,000 viewers. Part of that reason is the concept – fast super cars doing what they are made for. Another part is the fact that the hosts, each well versed in cars, are a very odd mix that are funny and friends. The last part is that the show is well-loved for doing the most insane challenges in vehicles that really shouldn’t be doing anything they are put through (like racing each other across the African salt flats in a used car – hello Oliver).

Top Gear the U.S. version on the History Channel misses on virtually all those points. Obviously, the History Channel has no concept of why the version found on BBC America on Mondays is so popular.

The U.S. version has tried to follow the formula – in almost every aspect except accents). They have the same EXACT stage. They have 3 hosts. They are highly focused on using mainly U.S. cars. And they are doing odd dumb challenges. But the whole thing just doesn’t work.

First is the fact that while there are a lot of cars made in the USA in the past that are great, but Europe does have many more. And the diversity of cars is mostly lost.

Then there is the question of the hosts. A group of mostly unknown men, that do have an everyman quality, but no chemistry. It just seems highly unlikely that this group of guys would have a beer together, unless they were getting paind on camera. Even individually in their segments during the show, there seems to be little appeal listening to the men.

Lastly there is the challenges. The U.S. version started off with a quick trailer of some of the challenges for the next 10 weeks – most looking exactly like challenges from the UK version but with American cars. Then they went to a race between a Dodge Cobra and a Cobra Helicopter. Watching it provided intense boredom.

So the US copy failed in just about everything. But it gets worse.

The Stig is a cultural icon created by the UK version. The mysterious driver that gets to take the top cars and push them to their limit on a modified race track, the list placed on a list running through each season. Top Gear created the caracter, and integrates him well into the various episodes of the show.

The US version also has a Stig. They have the driver in the same white racing suit, white helmet with black face visor hidding the identity. The US version Stig is also voiceless as with the UK version. That part is probably the best rip off of this entire show.

Then there is the Big Star in Small Car segment. A copy of the UK versions Star in an Economical Car setup. In each case, stars drive as fast as they can on the Top Gear improvised track in a car that the average person might drive (a Suzuki). To kick off the US version the star power was pulled out when they had Buzz Aldrin give it his best shot.

Again, it’s exactly the same as the UK version. Except most Americans have heard of the stars the show will use, and the accents are more familiar.

The UK version is known for its whimsical banter between hosts as well. The US version is about as whimsical as a flat tire on your way to work.

Top Gear, as copied by the History Channel, is a waste of time. It takes everything from the UK original, except humor, interest, and entertainment. Some might say it’s hard to judge the show from this first episode. But having been a fan of the UK original, the show is not a mystery. There is no plot to develop. There is no new characters or cliffhanger endings. What you see in week one, is basically what you will have by week 10.

If you are part of the US automakers (unions, factory workers, dealerships, ect) you want this show to work. The show is essentially a big advertisement for their vehicles.

If not, and you want some entertainment while seeing what is essentially an hour long car commercial, watch BBC America on Mondays. Top Gear (UK) is superior to it’s primitive American copy in every manner you would like to consider.

It sounded like a bad idea (the History Channel copy), but watching it just highlights how few ideas are in the television industry, and how poorly they are translated.

{If you wonder why we didn’t bother to mention the names of the US Top Gear hosts – they are so boring and without chemistry – that we were too bored to bother to care who they were or to acknowledge them.}

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Topics: Television | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Television show review: Top Gear – The History Channel rip off”

  1. M. Hartleroad

    When I first began watching top gear it wasn’t the cars that grabbed me. Even though I am a redneck gearhead speedfreak, it was the incredible photography that makes me dvr every episode. Will the history channel pay for super slow motion shots of a bently shreading tires or a wrx, dirt bike and c130 crossing in mid air? I hope so. By the way, the last shot i mentioned was filmed in America.

    As to the chemistry, by episode 3 it seems to be coming together.

  2. Michael Vass

    Glad to hear the chemistry has improved. But I haven’t bothered to watch a single episode past the first. The original seemed best to me in the past, and an inferior Americanized version just won’t cut it for me. I love America, but a bad copy (in my opinion) is still just that.

    Maybe I’ll change my mind if they survive long enough to get a 3rd season.

    But please keep me and the readers informed. You might convince me (and/or others) to check it out one more time yet.

  3. Earnest Bunbury

    Maybe the stig (American) also went to school with Jeremy Clarkson and that is why he too is a stig? Otherwise the stig moniker makes no sense at all…save to the fact the rest of the show doesn’t make any sense ‘cept being a direct rip off of the original and thus the stig rip off is perfectly sensible. Heck, just trying to make sense of this show is in itself senseless. To quote Oscar: “The secret of life is to appreciate the pleasure of being terribly, terribly deceived”. With this American Top Gear, we have.

  4. bobby

    Top Gear is in countries all over the world. America, Austrailia, and UK (the origonal) are the biggest ones. The history channel didn’t “copy” bbc, its made by the same producers and everything. its just an american version. nothing to get pissed about

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