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“They Just Don’t Get It, Really”

July 10, 2011 by Matt

The Car Show

“They just don’t understand a single word we’re on about.”

—Jeremy Clarkson on the American focus groups assembled by NBC to preview an American version of the hit British car show, Top Gear.

The latest attempt to pitch a Top Gear-like show to an American audience, Adam Carolla’s The Car Show debuts this Wednesday on Speed TV.

When it finally arrived on History, I gave Top Gear US a fair shake; I really did. I wanted it to work, but maybe it was something about the strained and forced chemistry of the hosts, perhaps it was something as superficial as the lack of British accents giving their car geekery a hokey feel, or it could have the desperate attempt to ape absolutely everything about the British show—whatever the reason or reasons, although it had some good moments, overall, it just didn’t work for me. I stopped watching after the first half-dozen episodes.

And though I wish Adam Carolla the best in his new endeavor, I have a sinking feeling it’s going to be more of the same. The promo, in particular, has the same sort of “chopped and edited to improve the comic timing” feel the Top Gear US spots had. Also, they’re pitching the “four guys yakking about cars” theme from the get-go. I wrote this about Top Gear US soon after it came out, and the same could apply to The Car Show:

Thing is (and I’m not terribly familiar with the first few seasons of the current format of Top Gear UK), it seems like the British show didn’t start out with an emphasis on inter-host chemistry and crazy challenges. I mean, they had them, but the first “great race” (DB9 vs. Train, IIRC) didn’t happen until what, Season 4? Up until that point it was pretty much a factual, well-made show that reviewed interesting cars. They wouldn’t have been able to do something like the Vietnam Special until much, much later.

Top Gear US is making a mistake if it thinks it can “force” the chemistry from the very beginning. Much better to front-load the show with entertaining reviews of cool cars and let the inside jokes develop at their own pace.

It’s kind of a catch-22, though, since it’s an open question whether a “factual car show” would hold the attention of American audiences long enough to allow the rapport between the hosts to develop. I kind of doubt it.

With this latest attempt at a American car show, I guess we’ll see. Until then, I remain loyal to Clarkson, Hammond and May.

Filed under: Media, News


  1. Diane says:

    We’re so fighting over this. :)

  2. John D says:

    I will say that I have not seen the US version…but after watching the promo I really didn’t want to. It just seems to…American. Over the top. Hyped out the wazoo. Gimmicky. Or, like you so aptly put it, “forced”. The thing about Americans in general is that they (ok…we) have very little appreciation for tact and subtlety. If one challenge is good, than a challenge every episode would be better, right? Wrong. It’s like using exclamation points at the end of every sentence, and before you know it you have to come up with something even more outrageous (and usually ridiculous) than exclamation points to catch someone’s attention.

    The thing I like most about Top Gear UK is the little unscripted moments, the hint of real feeling, be it amusement, humor, anger, frustration, or boredom. There is such a chemistry between the men that, even though most of it is scripted, you get a sense that it could have just as easily come about all on it’s own. As wonderful as the UK version is, there was a time (after watching about 30 straight episodes in a week) that I started to tire of the topic (cars). I know, crazy, right? But then I realized that they could have been reviewing mopeds or beer or geography and I would have continued to enjoy it because of the relation between the hosts. Indeed, it is their interpersonal relationships that bring me back time and time again, and once I ran out of episodes I felt a profound loss. I had made new friends over the 15 seasons of shows and all of a sudden they went from a social gathering to watching reruns on the tube. It was a real ending of sorts and I can’t wait for the next season when I get to catch up with my buddies. I just can’t see that happening with the new Top Gear US. Even if it were any good, it would be like trying to replace a long time friend with…a loud American imitation. And I really can’t think of anything more irritating than that.

  3. John D says:

    And one other thing. One of the biggest issues that the US version has is that it’s new. Even if the hosts did have chemistry, there is no substitution for history. Even Top Gear UK took several seasons to develop these dynamics. No matter how well you get along with a new friend, you would always rather catch up with an old one when the opportunity presents itself. Especially if your new (American) friend is constantly loud and cheesy. ;-)

    • Matt says:

      True about the history being a contributing factor to the success of the TGUK guys’ chemistry. But like I referenced in the post, it’s kind of a no-win situation for a prospective US car show, since we’re all expecting them to have this great chemistry out of the box, and will dump them if they don’t display it immediately, before they’ve had a chance to develop it.

      For what it’s worth, I watched some of The Car Show Wednesday night, and found it to be not that bad, actually. It help that it’s not a carbon copy of TGUK like TGUS is, so it obviously the blindingly obvious comparisons, and has some breathing room to develop on its own that way. I’ll be checking in with in periodically, I think.

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