Top Gear‘s History Channel incarnation (official site) arrived this season (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. And the second. How do we feel
about the third?

Your hosts: Nick Nunziata, Renn Brown, Jeremy Butler, and David Oliver.

Nick: Finally, an episode where the guys are having fun! When Top Gear is at its best it is a showcase for great reactionary humor, a forum for a variety of different kinds of automotive maladies, and fierce competition in absolutely lame events. This episode had that with its “spend $1,000 on a car and run moonshine” central concept. It’s not perfect by any stretch but it’s getting better. There is actual banter. There are moments where the hosts share personal asides that work. It feels more like Top Gear. Blander and more sterile, but still Top Gear. For the first time, all three guys had something interesting to contribute whether it be Ferrara’s genuine love for the Cadillac and its efforts to survive the competition, Foust’s dry but actually solid little comments about his Nissan, or Wood’s geeky rapport with the others. He’s still too much of a “That was… AWESOME!” or “THAT SUCKED!” kind of guy but I think at the very least there’s some potential here.

Yes, finally.  Top Gear is a show that’s about fun little missions upon which the hosts have to embark as much as it is about supercars.  The romp through North Carolina is very much at the heart what makes the UK show great, and the American hosts actually seemed to gel in the adventure.  The studio stuff was less grating than it was before also.  Not ready to claim that this version of the show has arrived, but this is more of what was needed the first couple of weeks, definitely.  One way that you get to know the hosts on these missions is by their taste in cars given the same stipulations.

No surprise to see Tanner in a Nissan.  Guy’s a drift king and it stands to reason that he’d grab something sporty.  Rutledge seems very much an American car kind of guy and the T-Bird was a good choice.  And Ferrara, who’s a New Yorker, grabs a whip that’s good for transporting bodies to the Jersey turnpike for dumping.  Points are also awarded to Tanner and Ferrara for rendering proper Top Gear assistance to their co-host, Rutledge, when his car breaks down…which is to abandon him on the side of the road.  I liked the mission.  It was very American, very South, very Dukes of Hazzard even.

Seeing things like Tanner and Rutledge lose it when Ferrara was running the moonshine road course was what I’ve been looking for for this version of the show.  Most importantly, I want three hosts who are friends off the set so that the chemistry isn’t faked nor scripted on the set.  And this is the first time that vibe has been delivered.  I’ve been hard on the show so far, but I can give credit when it’s due and this was a fun episode. 

ECHO-echo-echo.  Yeah – I agree with everything said.  This was definitely a fun episode, I liked Ferrara in this a LOT, which really caught me off guard, but it’s because of what Nick said – he LOVED that Cadillac.  It was palpable (and the camping scene was just charming all the way around).  Even Ruttledge was less annoying (but still kinda).  I will say that he earned a few points from me with the MacGuyver-esque way (hyperbolic?  perhaps) that he fixed his car.  You don’t always buy Ruttledge as a car guy – but that’s mainly because he doesn’t really do anything to sell it.  He did here and I’ll hi-five him for it.  He even got a chuckle from me when he took off on foot running from Officer Stig and dumped the evidence as he ran.  Scripted?  Probably.  Sold?  Definitely.  Cute?  As hell.

And The Stig!  I’m gonna play my “UK version? Wut?” card again and say I don’t know what they did with him there, but THIS is what these guys need to be doing with that dude.  It was a fun little tangent for his role on the show.  Ruttledge kinda punched it in the face with his “He’s not a real cop?” bit (and that Tiger Woods joke?  Booo), but if this is what the show delivers every week and continues to build upon, I’ll pick up the pom poms without hesitation.

Renn: I wonder if we’ll see this kind of progression in overall quality continue, as a sheer result of them spending more time together. The more hours they log in front of the cameras with each other, the more rapport and chemistry there will be. The group nature of the challenge was really nice, and while I like the Helicopter stunt or the skiing event, working off of a concept that included each member of the group equally was a good call. I’m still not really convinced any of these guys abilities to lead the show individually (especially Rutledge), but the more I get to know them as they bounce off of each other, then the more goodwill I might have as they get their TV legs on their own.

What’s even better than the group dynamic kicking up a notch (and including some genuinely funny moments like Ruttledge’s on-foot escape), was the challenge itself. The race around the track was a blast, and watching Ferrera annihilate that Cadillac couldn’t have been funnier. That was the first time the show has hit that vibe that Jackass exploits to such great effect, where I’m laugh with the cast in the same way as I would with my buddies. It all feels like a shared experience among friends, and if the future events cultivate that feeling, then this will be a consistently good time. If they can go even further and find those uniquely American touches that give it a reason to exist separately from the UK’s series without pandering TOO far to the NASCAR crowd, then by god we’ll have a show.

That said, Kid Rock appearing in the next episode is not good for my soul. Less of that.

So yeah, props to the show for turning in a much better episode than the previous two.  But leave us not get ahead of ourselves just yet though.  Still several more weeks to go on this.  What remains to be seen here is if this one outing was a fluke or truly the first steps in solidifying the American formula for the show.  Considering that the eps are already in the can, it’s not a question of what they will do, but what have they done?  Suffice it to say that I think a smart variety in the features will be needed, and hopefully the producers and hosts came up with some fun ideas.  And that more importantly they’re executed upon.  What’s been impressive about the UK show over the years is that they’ve managed a wide variety of bits not just in other countries, but also the UK itself, which, when compared with we Colonies, is quite a bit less chunk of real estate.

Considering that we have the Bonneville Salt Flats, where the land speed records are held, I hope they thought to make use of that for something where they just flat out let shit thunder down the terrain, maybe even trying for some legit speed records.  I’d love to see something where they get an unconventional vehicle, like say a semi, RV, garbage truck, steamroller or something and try to set a speed record with that.  There are also plenty of cities in which to do location stuff.  It goes without saying for me, as an Angeleno, that I think they’d be remiss if they didn’t feature a race between some supercar at the notoriously bad LA rush hour and say, maybe the equally notoriously bad public transit system out here.  How about a real live Death Race cross country…minus the death part of course (although that’s a guaranteed ratings winner).  I’ve heard recently that someone drove across country in something like 31 hours.   I’m also looking for stuff in other countries, which is where the UK show has some of their most rollicking adventures.  Lots of possibilities to be had.

So again, credit for a good episode.  Now what’s next?

Agreed Mr. Oliver, a single good show won’t do them any good if it slides back into the bland rut of the first two episodes. At least we’ve seen the potential though, and the hints of an upward curve. We’ve said before that there’s a ton of material to be mined from the car history/culture of the states, and I hope the moon-shinning episode is indicative of a trend towards more of that. I’ve definitely shifted from a place of being unmoved (if not outright disappointed) by the show to a place of guarded optimism for the series’ prospects. We’ll see if episode 4 brings it.

Nick: I think Ferrara needs to lead, Foust needs to be dry and make a point to poke the fatty to get laughs, and Rutledge needs to get a thesaurus and find some new words to use. There is no doubt that the two auto experts know their shit but they have to convey that knowledge in a manner that is both engaging and entertaining. There’s a long way to go here, and they need to remember that the more fun they have with their ‘Tame Racing Driver’, the better the show is.

Lastly, while I’m glad they did the news they need to once again find weird stuff to make fun of and real laws to question. This is the segment of the show where their opinion can actually influence people. None of us need to be sold on a $150,000 sports car. It’s fantasy. But the news is where they need to raise the intellectual level a bit and showcase the many things wrong about our culture.

And the interview in this episode was horrible and brutally edited. Once in mid-sentence, Dawn of the Dead asshole was cut away from. The directive is the simplest there is:


Jeremy: It’s funny you mention the news because I had forgotten all about it, which pretty much makes everything you said spot-on.  I still have my misgivings about Ferrara, but since I’m willing to give everything else in the show an “Alright we’re getting better” than I’ll offer him the same courtesy.  I agree that’s his natural place and on paper he serves as a nice peak in a triangle with the other two, he just needs to keep it reined in like he did this week and I’ll buy him as Alpha.  I’m still a Tanner dude, though.

So yeah, bring on next week and hopefully Kid Rock will be run over by an Evo in the snow before then.  But they’ve probably already shot it so NEVER MIND.