Judge David Johnson is the Stig. For reals.
Our reviews of Top Gear: The Complete Season 13 (published October 16th, 2010), Top Gear: The Complete Season 10 (published April 23rd, 2009), Top Gear: The Complete Season 11 (published January 25th, 2010), Top Gear: The Complete Season 12 (published January 25th, 2010), Top Gear: The Complete Season 14 (Blu-ray) (published February 19th, 2011), Top Gear: The Complete Season 15 (Blu-ray) (published February 19th, 2011), Top Gear: The Complete Season 16 (Blu-ray) (published August 8th, 2011), Top Gear: The Complete Season 17 (Blu-ray) (published February 20th, 2012), Top Gear: The Complete Season 18 (published July 14th, 2012), Top Gear: The Complete Season 20 (published January 23rd, 2014), Top Gear: The Worst Car in the History of the World (published September 26th, 2013), and Top Gear US: Season Three (published September 1st, 2013) are also available.
Can it measure up to the original?
Short answer: no way. But all is not lost…
Facts of the Case
Courtesy of the BBC and History, we have the American version of the top motoring show in the world. Top Gear across the pond is a global phenomenon and has already spawned several other country-specific iterations.
Now the U.S. gets it turn behind the wheel, bringing together comedian Adam Ferrara, pro driver Tanner Foust and journalist Rutledge Wood to put Italian supercars through their paces, embark on their own cheap car challenges, attempt to evade an Apache attack helicopter, chat with modest celebrities about their Priuses and figure out what is the toughest American truck you can buy.
I am a huge, drooling fanboy over the BBC's Top Gear. It is probably the best "reality" show currently on the air, though it's unfair to pigeonhole it in with the likes of The Bachelor and Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire. Informative, hilarious and controversial, Top Gear from across the pond has more than earned its international fame. The only reason I'm pumping that show's tires, so to speak, is to note how much of a gold standard this U.S. version has to stack up against. And there's no getting around it: Top Gear U.S. has to be measured up to the original. You can't help but draw comparisons between a father and a son, right?
It should come as no surprise that Top Gear U.S. falls short of its lofty standard-bearer. Yet take away that (admittedly) unfair calculus and the American version has enough to horsepower to stand on its own.
First off, it gets the cars right. There are lots of automobiles showcased and for the most part they're as sexy as you'd expect a Top Gear-featured conveyance to be: Dodge Vipers, Lamborghinis, BMWs, and the like. But as a shout-out to the American viewing crowd you get some blue-collar horsepower as well, featuring a pick-up truck doing a power lap and the series-ending challenge, where each presenter grabs a truck of their choice and heads to the mountains. Car-wise, it's a good mix of the sexy and practical.
Where the show is hampered is in the personality department. Yes it's unfair to compare to the amazing chemistry between James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson, but Foust, Wood and Ferrara are so far back from the big guns it's glaring. Foust knows his car stuff, but he's fairly stiff when levity is called for and Wood just seems to be trying too hard. Ferrara looks the most comfortable and that's probably thanks to his comic sensibilities and comfort on television. The trio just doesn't seem to fit together. At least not yet.
Decent DVD: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, 2.0 stereo, select episode commentary, webisodes, and a group interview with the three presenters.
A good show for car enthusiasts but nothing near the iconic original.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Episode Commentary
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