Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Car Show vs. Top Gear USA: One Hot Lap's Contributors Battle it Out (UPDATED)

One Hot Lap's contributors spar with each other on The Car Show vs. Top Gear USA:

Nicolas says:
Let’s get straight to the bottom line: Both shows are trying their hardest to emulate Top Gear UK.

Like many gearheads, I am a huge fan of Top Gear UK. The show is phenomenal with entertaining and witty commentaries, breathtaking video editing and a budget with seemingly no limit. I have actually managed to turn my wife to it so I don’t have to sneak out of bed in the middle of the night to watch it. She enjoys it, which speaks to the show's broad appeal: 40% of its viewers are women.

Top Gear USA just finished its second season. There was a lot of hype surrounding the show. Adam Carolla was initially cast in the pilot show but for some reason that idea didn’t materialize. The show started out as a pale copy of the original UK version and it felt like a horrible transplant in the first season. The rhythm between segments was off, the chemistry between the three hosts was non-existent, and the show lacked originality. It was merely a re-taping of the UK segments with US hosts. Watching the UK gang test how well the interior of a car is sealed from the outside by pouring gallons of water from the roof is hilarious first time around. Watching the exact same bit rehashed on Top Gear USA is just plain boring.
The second season is much better. They’ve jazzed up the formula so most shows are full-length adventures with more relevance to the U.S. audience. For example: best $5,000 Pick-Up/Off-Roader to cross Death Valley. The chemistry of the 3 UK hosts will be hard to duplicate for any show but Top Gear USA is moving in the right direction. And it's a plus that Tanner Foust actually knows how to drive!

Most of the Car Show is filmed in a studio and it has a very different feel. I am a fan of leadman Adam Carolla. He is a genuine car enthusiast, has an impressive car collection and enjoys vintage racing. I do listen to his hugely popular CarCast podcasts on a regular basis and find them entertaining.

I still have mixed feelings about Season 1, which just ended. I was expecting an entertaining and informative show about all things automotive. Instead, I feel like I am watching a "car-themed" late night entertainment show featuring bad jokes interspersed with segments designed to trigger laugh tracks. What’s up with the Jeopardy style quizzes or 3-lap slot car races? And why do I have to listen to “follow us on Facebook or Twitter” every 5 minutes? I AM watching the show damn it -- isn’t that enough already? There have been some good segments, though: I particularly like Dan Neil's car tests as they appear to have a bit more depth. Overall, I don’t feel like I am the target audience, which is a bit puzzling because I should be.

I’ll summarize my feelings about both shows by an anecdotal fact: I had my TiVo DVR record both series. I am done watching Top Gear USA, and I have yet to watch 4 or 5 of the last Car Shows…

Christo says:
To me, Top Gear USA is dead. They killed it in the first season and I am not giving this knockoff a second chance because no-one can come close to duplicating Top Gear UK. My DVR is actually out of Car Shows and I still have over 10 Top Gear UK shows recorded. See, Top Gear UK is the gold standard: they have global reach, the budget, the hosts chemistry and everything that goes into making it hugely successful. My problem with them is that after a while, it starts to feel totally staged: they race from England all the way to the South of France and the camera crew is taking these fantastic shots of the cars/trains as they fly by the beautiful countryside. How many crews does it take to track the "racers" on their precise countryside route? And c'mon: every race is so close, it needs a photo finish to determine the winner. Do they think we are all 8-year olds? Also, it is obvious that the hosts go out on a set with a pre-determined idea of what they want to achieve: for example, "prove" that electric cars suck and the Tesla only gets 60 miles per charge even though they claim 200 miles. Totally staged and biased, which is why Tesla took them to court!

The Car Show, on the other hand, has its own recipe, true American roots, good balance between the hosts and, well, it's funny:

Adam Carolla on the new electric Karma Fisker: it's so cool, it will get you laid AND save polar bears!

Adam Carolla on Danica Patrick leaving IRL for Nascar: "Has she been racing? I thought all she does is GoDaddy commercials..."
Matt Farah: "That's a good move. Cars are bigger in Nascar, so more ad space for her! "
Adam Carolla: "Can you imagine all the NASCAR guys from the 60's who used to smoke while driving? They learn a chick will be driving a Japanese car, their heads will explode and they'll spit the moonshine all over you."

If the show doesn't get shut down because Adam Carolla offends some rights group (is there anyone left he hasn't offended?), they will keep getting better at it and find a larger audience. Even if that audience ends up being the Wienermobile Manufacturers of America...

Larry says:

Let's face it. These shows are more for entertainment purposes than for us to learn about cars. Girls in my office watch TGUK. I'm talking girls that aren't sure the model car they drive, never mind what they are seeing on TV.

I've asked one of them if she ever watched the US version, and she replied. Yes, and it's horrible.. To be honest, I concur. There's no flow or camaraderie.

I feel that TGUK is the pinnacle, TGUS contains a modicum of the same formula, in miniscule doses compared to it's prodigy.. so miniscule, that if elephants had fleas, and those fleas had fleas, then we're getting close.

The Car Show is fun, but I watch it more because I liked The Man Show than interest in the car segments. It feels like Adam wants to relive the bravado of the Man Show, yet knows it won't quite work here. Still, he ad-libs jokes and some of them hit the mark. Still fun to watch the awkwardness though.

My ranking is easy: TGUK>TCS>TGUS. Sure, The Car Show is building on the wildly successful TGUK franchise, but it tries to be somewhat different. I'm okay with that.

Here's hoping the Velocity TV will enable better petrolhead entertainment.

4 comments:

  1. Christo, You prove my point. All you seem to comment about the Car Show are the jokes ;-)
    They should call it "the Car Jokes Show".

    More seriously, I just watched the Car Show where Matt Farah comes to the Pacific Grand Prix go-kart track in Seattle to test the Ariel Atom and KTM Xbow and I was entertained. Maybe because I know PGP well and this particular Xbow is actually from Seattle. Still pretty cool.

    Nicolas

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  2. Spot on, Nicolas! I watch the shows mostly for the entertainment aspect and less so to find out what the cars really can do. I want the show to entertain me! I'll find out more about the cars at the track ;o) I think Top Gear UK mixes entertainment with car test really well.

    On presenting the new Porsche 911: "The passenger seat feel rather narrow but then again, if you can afford this car, you can also find a skinny wife." Sometimes I wonder how they get away with all this stuff and people even go "Yessir, May I Have Another?" :o)

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  3. Christo is right....I think TGUK jumped the shark at some point prior to the last two seasons. Even James May admits this
    http://www.metro.co.uk/tv/845903-top-gear-is-becoming-a-sitcom-says-presenter-james-may

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  4. "The 47-year-old, who hosts the BBC2 programme alongside Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond, admitted he now plays a 'character' in the show." LOL!

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