Top Gear: ’murkin edishun

If you’ve ever ventured beyond the dank and musty walls of your university’s medieval manuscripts collection and interacted socially with at least three other people who can’t read Latin, then you probably know a “car guy“. And if you ask this car guy what he’ll be doing tonight at 10:00, chances are he’ll reply with something along the lines of: “Not sure… can’t make my mind up as to whether I should take a chance on the new Top Gear America or spend the evening playing Gran Turismo instead” (other possible answers include: watching Bullit for the 60th time, laying fiberglass, or doing donuts in the mall parking lot).

Top Gear, for those unfamiliar with the show, is an international sensation. Carried by BBC affiliates around the world and enjoyed by millions, the program regularly features oddball segments (such as when a Citroen 2CV was annihilated by the thrust of  a 747’s engine), power-laps of exotic vehicles by a masked race car driver, and a regular feature in which celebrities are invited to drive an economy car around a race track. While it’s true that outside the UK fans of the series are more likely than not to be car guys, the show’s quirky humor, outrageous stunts and celebrity cameos have managed to find Top Gear an audience in Britain that extends well beyond the usual suspects of import tuners, track junkies, and greasy fingered weekend mechanics.  Moreover, Top Gear‘s  enormous popularity (UK viewers recently voted it the best TV series of the decade) has led to the production of several local offshoots around the world. Sadly, these local versions of the show have by and large proved far less successful than the original. The Australian Top Gear is a case in point, with large series premiere audiences (responding, no doubt, to high expectations derived from the BBC original) that slowly wither away as the season progresses and viewers become disappointed that the original series’ winning formula has not been replicated.

It’s not possible, of course, to identify the precise, scientific, reason why a particular TV show is popular or not. However, in the case of BBC’s Top Gear, the series’ success is due, no doubt, as much to the show’s oddball stunts as to the nearly perfect chemistry of the program’s three main presenters: James May, Richard Hammond, and Jeremy Clarkson. May plays the “straight guy” who seems unaware that he’s been cast in a comedic series. Hammond is your lovable, fawn eyed, ingenue, kid brother. And then there’s Clarkson. He is very much the glue that holds the show together. His oversized, clownish persona and sardonic commentary are elements around which much of the series revolves. And this, precisely, is what local offshoots of the show struggle to find. For as much as the hot laps in exotic cars and crazy stunts help propel the series, all one  really needs to enjoy the show is Jeremy Clarkson behind the wheel of a car and a live microphone. Consider, for instance, the following clip, in which Clarkson reviews and then buys his very own Ferrari 355:

And then there’s the nearly perfect chemistry on display when the show’s presenters are working together. Below is a sample from a episode in which all three were presented with the task of buying and living with a cheap, exotic, Italian sports car:

That clever writing, comedic timing, and self-deprecating wit, is what Top Gear America hosts will have to struggle to develop if the show is to find anything like the audience that it has in Britain.

Tonight’s premiere episode of Top Gear America will feature a 600 horsepower Dodge Viper racing a Cobra gunship helicopter through the twisty back streets of a small town. Later episodes include a Mitsubishi Lancer competing against men on skis to reach the bottom of a snow covered mountain and another episode features cast members thrashing $1000 clunkers in an homage to prohibition era moonshiners. So the U.S. version appears to have the oddball stunts down. What remains to be seen is whether in cast members  Adam Ferrara, Tanner Foust and Rutledge Wood,  the shows producers have managed to find their own Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond. It’s not impossible but it is a tall, tall order.

(Top Gear Premiers Tonight at 10 EST on the History Channel)

27 Comments

I’ve been meaning to watch (read: stream) the BBC version, but I haven’t gotten around to it. The problem with US Top Gear is that it’s in the same time slot as The Walking Dead. I think there are only three TWD episodes left for this season, but never underestimate the allure of zombies.

Based on the past history, the answer is probably no.

I recently watched a very entertaining movie called Pour Elle, a very well done intelligent thriller. The US America remake to be released on Turkey Day stars Russell Crowe and is called The Next Three Days… sad to say but even the trailer was stupid and I will not be seeing that even though it is supposed to be a scene by scene remake.

@JNOV: Thanks. It’s even worth going through the shithole of LAX to be back in Santa Monica where the air won’t kill you and people aren’t smoking cigarettes everywhere.

@Dodgerblue: Yeah. I don’t know when or where I learned about US tobacco companies’ overseas advertising campaigns, but they’re been hitting a lot of places hard as smoking has tapered off in the US. Unfortunately, it hasn’t tapered off for me. But, yeah, Marlboro Lights Golds are extremely inexpensive in Cairo…

… then you probably know a “car guy“.

You talkin’ to me?

I am torn here. I suppose I will TIVO the new one, but I have convinced myself that it can’t compete with Clarkson, May, and Hammond.

This Merkin Edition thing sounds interesting. Basic cable?

@ManchuCandidate: Absolute WORST Americano Frame by Frame Ripoff Sleaze Ever: The remake of La Femme Nikita with Brigit Fonda.

People said the USA! USA! remake of Let the Right One In was pretty good (and shot in New Mexico), but I still have not seen either one. I hate scary movies.

Upcoming from the Great State of New Mexico: Paul, Thor, Cowboys and Aliens. In theaters: Due Date.

@redmanlaw:
And I liked Bridget Fonda, too.

The TV show (made in Canada City) was worse. It was basically a bunch of skinny models trying to strike “SERIOUS”, “GLAMOROUS” or “FIERCE” poses with MP-5s. Gaaah.

@JNOV:
Joe Camel became Hu Camel. This is why the US America Tobacco companies are making bank and didn’t cry when US America kicked the crap out of them. The Pacific Rim doesn’t give two craps about lung cancer and considering the pollution… smoking is probably less toxic than breathing. My dad used to smoke two packs a day before coming to North America. Then he quit after sis was born so I, cough, hack, had, cough, breathe it, cough, in, for a , cough, couple of, hack, years as a, cough, kid. His family gave him a hard time about that when he visited because he was the only one who didn’t smoke.

@redmanlaw: Just TIVOd it – oddly enough it’s on the History Channel.

@ManchuCandidate: Yeah, my mom and her boyfriend and my stepdad smoked in the apartment. I was always sick with bronchitis and ear infections and all sorts of crud. I’m glad your father eventually quit. Maybe there’s hope for me.

@JNOV: Try switching to Merit Ultralights. After a couple of weeks you’ll be tapered down to practically no nicotine and they’re so flavorless, you’ll forget why you were smoking in the first instance.

@ManchuCandidate: East Asian business culture makes it practically impossible not to smoke. Everyone in the room is handing you a cigarette. The Koreans even have all these mutual aid cigarette lighting ceremonies you have to learn. Between that and the carbonated rice wine it’s a wonder anything gets done on business meetings.

@FlyingChainSaw: Haha! I started on my roommate’s Merits. They were in a yellow package, so I don’t know if they were regulars, lights, whatevers. How many people will I punch if I switch to ultralights? IOW, how long should I remain on lockdown?

@JNOV: These come in the blue package. They are just kinda blah. Not punch-worthy blah. Just blah-level blah.

Son of RML asked me to quit smoking cigars, so I did. Not that I’ll miss it. If I had 12 in a year that was a lot.

@FlyingChainSaw: After a couple of weeks you’ll be tapered down to practically no nicotine and they’re so flavorless, you’ll forget why you were smoking in the first instance.

I tried that move with Camel Lights, figuring that since they tasted like shit, I could kick the habit in weeks.

Didn’t work. Nicotine’s a bitch.

@JNOV: “How many people will I punch if I switch to ultralights?” I assume you’re talking about the effects of nicotine withdrawal. I spent years, no, decades quitting smoking and then resuming, quitting and resuming some weeks or months later, and finally quitting and not resuming until three years later, and finally, finally, quitting in August of 1989 and blissfully never yet resuming so that I am still cigarette-free 21 years later (just had my 68th birthday in October). The absolute worst aspect of quitting was how very savage it made me. I eventually learned to shut myself away from other people as much as possible for the first five days of no nicotine since I feared what I might say or do to them. I know quite a few people who have had excellent results in tapering off and out of the addiction with nicotine gum or patches or some other withdrawal-in-stages by slow reduction of daily intake. I never tried that myself. Smoking herbal cigarettes (mint bidis) instead of tobacco didn’t work out well although I did quit for short periods a few times that way.

Good luck! “Not Smoking” is now very high on my gratitude list, coming always in the first two or three after “Alive” (its position depends on whether “Sober” is in second place, which it always is if I am, and next comes “Not Sick,” if I’m not).

@nojo: Indeed.

@lynnlightfoot: Yep, I’m talking about nicotine withdrawal, and congratulations on getting off these horrific things! Yes, being alive is damned good as are sober and not sick. That’s some great work you’ve done.

The longest I’ve been off cigarettes is 16 months. I’ve tried the patch, the gum (I just end up chewing nicotine gum 24/7, which I guess is better than smoking as long as I don’t wake up with a wad of it in my hair), cold turkey, Chantix (that’s some bad juju there, but the dreams were awesome), those smokeless cigarette puffer things — I’m sure there’s more. My problem is I get off for a while, and DAMN if I don’t start smoking again for some reason.

I watched an interview with Steven Tyler, and he was talking about how even reading the word “heroin” reminds him of the highs and makes him kind of wistful, I guess. That’s sort of how it is with smoking and me. I can’t just have one. And that first one after I’ve quit for a few months or whatever is stinky and foul and disgusting, but something inside me says, “Ahhhhhhh.” And then I’m hooked. Again.

I’m cranky enough as it is. I think I’ll wait until after Turkey Day to be a twitching bitch. I’m going to cold turkey it again — if I make it three days, I’m golden unless I screw up some time in the future. Plus, my kid has endured enough of my attempts; he doesn’t need to experience another one. I’ve always warned him ahead of time. I think I’d like to tell him, “Guess what — I quit a month ago” rather than “Keep your head down, son.”

@nojo: They might be nicotine rich still. Try the blue Merits. Blue as in blah.

Sport TJ/How’ bout that 50 yard running play by the Eagles on 4th and 1? Whoooo!

@redmanlaw:
yes how bout it. i was forced to watch it against my will as the best TV in the house resides in the room with me in my flu bed. whoo.
keep thinking about you telling me how you got sick after your flu shot.
me too…

smoking.
i am disgusted with myself. i quit for 8 years. 8 years! and i’m back to a pack a day. my will to quit is weak, as you must quit every day! for the rest of time! why is it so hard? because they’re delicious, that’s why. because i have a history of dangerous self destruction, smoking being the least of everything else i’ve given up in the name of self preservation.
because i need to be with outcasts. if everyone smoked, i’d have more incentive to quit. i’ll kill myself in the name of rebellion. because i enjoy smoking in airport bathrooms and coming out of my stall and yelling, “who’s smoking in here!!” my daughter says i stinque.
i’ve been too sick to write, but have kept up with my reading. i love you guys she said, with a gravelly voice. now staggering back to bed with my toddy and a fresh pack.

@lynnlightfoot:
you give me hope. though quitting is not on my to do list, i may put it back on. but i need a sponsor. maybe you could coach me and JNOV.
so JNOV? wanna quit together? yes yes, after turkey day, which i’m hosting. can’t quit now or 10 minutes after the bird is sliced, i’ll be flicking the lights on and off and screaming, “you don’t have to go home, you just can’t stay here, GET OUT!!!”

@baked: Haha! Let’s set a date for next week.

@JNOV:
ok darling, let’s.
one thing my dad can take off his list that starts with:
“for such a smart girl, why in the world do you…..(fill in self destructive behavior of your choice)”
the crop is in. i once tried quitting by substituting the funnyweed for cigs.
that did not work. but it was the most fun i ever had trying. i never use the word try. my personal guru, yoda, advises, “there is no TRY, there is DO or DO NOT”
today i DO smoke…let’s see what tomorrow brings.

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