Top Gear‘s History Channel incarnation (official site) arrived this month (to decent if unspectacular ratings), and the gents have added it to the Tag Team circulation. Consider yourself rewarded! We were iffy on the first episode. How do we feel about the second?
TOP GEAR #2 – BLIND DRIFT
Your hosts: Nick Nunziata, Renn Brown, Jeremy Butler, and David Oliver.
Nick: I made a big mistake before watching episode two of the American Top Gear.
I watched an episode of the British show. I giggled, smiled, laughed,
and was in awe of the filmmaking and writing numerous times through the
episode. It was so fun and so playful. They didn’t care about being a
‘Car Show’, but rather embodied the bold and creative spirit that makes
the show so great.
Then I watched this second episode of the American show and it was just
like the British show except for everything but the excellent filmmaking
and editing. The crew on this show is pretty good. There’s some
beautiful photography and it’s edited very well. The segment where
Boring McSleepytime races downhill against the skiing dudes is just like
something from the original show (including the moment where they jump
over the car as it drives past) except for the personality and
looseness. The drift racing with the blind man and his dog is totally
something the other show would do except there’s no humor. The man is a
blind comedian and there’s no humor.
The Aston Martin segment is gorgeous. And dreadfully bland.
And… if you’re going to have The Stig… then you have to make fun of
The Stig. You have to have wacky shit playing on the stereo in his car.
Otherwise it’s like doing a Spider-Man movie except he doesn’t have
special powers or web shooters. Just the name and the costume.
Dave: I went into Episode 2 resolved to let go of my love for the original and especially the UK hosts and try to give these guys a fair shake on their own merits. Then I actually watched the episode…and was bored again. I just cannot get over on these guys. Every segment, minus the technical wizardry in the camera and editing departments, are crushingly bland at best and just awful at worst. Tanner Foust is the only member of the trio I can stand more than a couple of minutes of on camera. His driving ability gives him cred; but he still needs to work on his onscreen presence. He’s more straight narrating his segments than he is entertaining with them.
Rutledge…the guy is a cliche machine. On commenting on the Lancer Evo, he actually said that it fell out of an ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. Really? That’s the best you got? And Ferrara is a charisma black hole on this show. The chemistry between the three, what there is of it (which ain’t much) continues to come off forced and labored.
As for the car segments, was it me or did the Lancer section seem like it was staged near the end to get that skiers jumping over the car shot? Tanner’s reaction seemed genuine, but I’d almost put money that that shot was a set up. And actually, the editing on this lacked a lot of immediacy. I have to go back to the original show for a similar stunt where James May was racing in a rally car down a snow covered mountain in Lillehammer I believe it was, and Hamster was rocketing down in the Olympic bobsled track. The elapsed time for that was only a minute, but it was a masterful bit of side by side editing. Catching Tanner behind traffic and then a propane truck made the segment drag. Maybe chalk it up to a logistical flub in selecting that site, but for a segment that should get the heart going, mine never raised above resting.
The Aston Martin segment was indeed gorgeously shot, but Rutledge handling the narration just did little for me on it.. The blind drifter segment dragged. Liked the Dominic Monaghan interview segment, though. he was a good interview and had some cool ideas about the future of automobiles. Overall, though, Top Gear should make you want to either have the show keep going for hours or immediately have another episode at the ready. It shouldn’t be something you have to get through, and so far that’s all it is. Nash the guide dog had the right idea about the show to date: Piss on it.
Jeremy: Well…I liked it. I’m the only dude on crew here who has limited-to-no exposure to the original, so that may be coloring my perception, but as a whole I really enjoyed the episode. Not that you guys aren’t right about a lot of things. Ferrara has got to go. He sucks the life out of every segment he’s in and his whole tough-guy accent/voice just feel out of place. And he needs to take that damned studio audience with him. Was that part of the original? And if so, what the hell did they do to make it work?
Howeva’ – I dig Tanner. A lot. No, he’s not the most exciting dude to ever be on TV, but that kid can drive his dick off and the fact that he doesn’t use that as an excuse to tack on some obnoxious swagger (like Ferrara’s) makes me like him even more. Ruttledge? Well, he can jog on with Ferrara. That Aston Martin segment should have been top-tier – you had that location, that sexysexysexy car, the technical chops of the guys BTS – but you stick Kevin Smith behind the wheel and you end up with a segment that was the entertainment equivalent of the V8 Vantage. Pretty to look at, but not a damn thing else.
I will diverge a bit on the blind-driving segment, though. I really liked it. It was light and fluffy in places, but it was fun. I am a sucker for shit like that handbrake parking bit though, so I was all excited when they did that and kinda lost the ability to look at it objectively since I was too busy going “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.” Sucker.
And David mentioned that the Lancer segment seemed staged. I completely agree with this. But what I took away from it was that it almost kinda betrayed the urgency of the stunt itself. I don’t buy that the Insurance Company let Tanner rip ass on a roadrace on a road where there would be random traffic and pedestrians. Everything about that seemed staged, choreographed, orchestrated…any other synonym you can think of for artificial as balls. And I get it – you kinda have to do that with several-thousand-pound death machines, but they overproduced the hell out of this segment. However – I walked away from that thinking “I want an Evo,” so it obviously did something right, but again, it’s the car talking louder than the show. That’s a balance that STILL needs to be fixed.
And speaking only for our version – The Stig can run along with Ferrara, Ruttledge and the audience. HE’S the most boring part of this show, and he’s only on screen for roundabout a minute, so that’s saying something. I did like Monaghan though – that was a fun little bit of fluff.But again, overall I dug it.
Nash, however, is a fan of the original, it would seem.
Renn: Yeah, I think we’re going to settle on a pretty standard, “hosts sucks,
photography’s great” pattern here, as its their both definitive
characteristics of the show. I’ve never assumed these big segments are
anything but highly choreographed events manufactured as much in editing
as in planning. There’s no way they did their stunt in the first
episode without closing streets (not to mention airspace, since
obviously there’s an airport in Griffin*) and I don’t really hold that
against them. As long as it is well-shot and exhilarating, I can dig it.
So all of these gimmicky segments I’ve enjoyed, but yeah, these guys
just do not command the screen and their personalities melt away.
I’ve chuckled at some jokes to be sure, and I’m a pretentious film
geek so well-done photography keeps me entertained, but damn the show’s
flat. I’ll lay some blame on the writing as well (which I’m sure is a
shared duty between the hosts and a stable of writers), as I feel like
these guys could be somewhat entertaining with better material. Perhaps
they’ll grow into the show and hit a groove at some point, but it’s not
Jeremy: I do wanna jump back in for a moment and clarify –
there’s no doubt in my mind that these segments are meticulously
planned every step of the way, but I took umbrage to the fact that they
showed their hand so plainly with the Evo segment. It’s the editing
that makes the most meticulously planned thing look organic and
exhilarating (hello SCOTT PILGRIM), and here is one of the rare
occasions where the production team dropped the ball.
Nick: In their defense, the UK shows it all the time too. There’s a
lot of stuff staged to look good on camera.
I don’t get the Ferrara hate, though. He’s the only guy who seems
truly comfortable with his role.
Jeremy: I’ll give him that, he feels natural on-screen and that’s due to his
stand-up career, but the dude’s always “on.” Plus he doesn’t feel like a
car guy in a sense that Tanner’s a car guy – Tanner drives, appreciates
the machines, Ferrara comes off as a tough-guy who likes cars because
that’s what tough guys do. Maybe that’s just me, though.
I agree with Jeremy, but I almost feel like the dynamic, if they grow to
be something, could use a dick as part of the trio. Someone to fill the
lovable asshole and make the hosts relationship more dynamic. That’s
giving them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll grow more comfortable
and entertaining though.
I haven’t caught any of Ferrara’s stand up, so I don’t know from that.
All I know that on this show, he’s vanilla. They’re all vanilla, but
at least Tanner’s maybe French vanilla. And as for the UK car segments
being produced, stuff like the romp with Clarkson and the two cars
through the shopping mall, sure. But I never got that vibe from the
actual races. When I see the skiers jumping over Tanner in the Evo at
the perfect time, during a race, though, it smacks of reality TV
And I guess I’ll stick to the “hosts suck, photography’s
great” riff until the hosts give me something worth noting. Again,
their in-studio stuff is like the commercial where the cars are dragging
steel safes or anchors or pianos. Also, there’s just no spark to
anything I’ve seen from them on their location stuff. And yeah, why
have the Stig if you’re not going to make good use of him? You want to
have an American version of possibly the most entertaining show in the
world, then you’ve got to have entertaining hosts. This show doesn’t.
Nick: I know they’re having fun doing it. It’s obvious that they’re enjoying the shit out of their job. The difference is that Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May are three very distinctive personalities that are able to make their fun OUR FUN. That’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s become a part of the Top Gear brand. I’d go as far as to say that it IS the brand. Otherwise it’s a show about fast cars and that shit gets old faster than any Bugatti Veyron could ever aspire to.
Loosen the belts. Take a dump, and make the fun contagious and the show’s justified its existence.