People love to rip on Top Gear USA. Correction - car people love to rip on Top Gear USA. Another correction - car people that watch Top Gear UK love to rip on Top Gear USA. Can you guess the point I’m trying to make here?
Straight up, I’m a fan of both shows for different reasons, and I’d bet the Stig’s helmet that there are a whole bunch of people out there who feel the same way, but for whatever reason won’t admit it publicly. That’s okay, because I’ll admit it publicly for you. I like Top Gear USA, and I’m not just saying that because I’m American. I’m saying it because it’s a good, fun, entertaining car show.
In fact, I know I can’t be alone on this because TG USA has managed to survive for six years despite just about every car blog, auto forum, and self-proclaimed motoring television expert complaining about it. For all the naysayers, it gives me pleasure to say the eighth season will be starting at the end of April. It comes after a hiatus of a year and a half that was filled with rumours of cancellation. It also comes after the infamous fracas that ended the much-loved programme it stemmed from.
I’m not interested in telling you what you should and shouldn’t like, but I am interested in raising some points that I believe could be keeping people from enjoying and embracing a program that speaks directly to motoring enthusiasts. So hold up on all your hate for Tanner, Adam and Rut for a few moments and let me explain why Top Gear USA isn’t as bad as you think it is.
They have the same name, the same basic format, and they have the same BBC roots. But since the very first USA episode, Top Gear fans have watched through UK eyes, and that’s just not a fair comparison. Top Gear UK had years to dial in the format, and more importantly, develop the chemistry among the presenters that made it such a success. To expect that kind of home run right off the bat is simply unrealistic, and it’s unfair to the hosts. The show should be watched, judged, and appreciated on its own merits, not to the expectations of the UK version.
When Top Gear relaunched in the UK in 2002, it already had the benefit of more than two decades of established history on television. Despite Top Gear’s global success, the only established Top Gear audience in the U.S. was a relatively small number of petrolheads. For Top Gear USA to survive it had to reach new viewers while keeping the traditional Top Gear fans interested.
Could the producers have done better on that last bit? Possibly, but I also believe they faced a no-win scenario with the fans no matter how good the show was. Again, it comes back to the viewers holding the new TG USA to the same standards it took TG UK nearly a decade to build.
It’s pretty easy to tell the first couple of seasons were a struggle as the show tried to find its own voice. Curiously enough, it evolved away from the studio to become an hour-long car challenge format - something the new Amazon Prime show with Clarkson, Hammond and May is reported to be following. Yes, there are still the obvious scripted moments, but do you really think the UK boys constantly ended up on sketchy back roads and stuck in random swamps by accident?
At first it felt like Tanner, Rutledge and Adam were the awkward strangers at a party pretending they knew everyone. In the years that have passed there’s still the sense some of their actions aren’t their own, but each has their own personality and niche in the show, and it’s satisfying to watch them interact. No, they don’t have the same chemistry as Clarkson, Hammond and May. But again, this isn’t UK Top Gear and they haven’t been doing this for 14 years.
I hate to be Captain Obvious here, but it’s not like our televisions are burning up with all kinds of motoring programs in the States. Never mind that it’s a legitimately entertaining car program done by guys who do actually know and love cars. It’s not Top Gear UK - it has a different feel with different presenters that focus on different cars. That doesn’t make it better or worse, just different. Once you realise that, you understand very quickly just what kind of great, silly, enjoyable fun this show is.