I ought to start this article off with the reasons as to why I decided to write this article. I got scalded recently for criticizing Jack Baruth’s article on why Top Gear USA will fail. On reflection, the scalding was well earned. It’s a bit unprofessional to criticize a fellow worker’s work no matter how much you disagree with it.
But this set off a light bulb in my head. Why should I post a comment about why I disagree with an article, and get browbeaten, if I can write an article of my own, highlighting my thoughts? Isn’t that the American way? Why give something away for free, when you can sell it?
But before I proceed, I ought to clarify that I’m not going to advocate why Top Gear USA will fail. That’s another topic completely. I’m going to talk about my reasons as to why I think Top Gear is all right.
Top Gear does something which few shows do: capture our imaginations. Say what you want about these awful reality shows (America’s next supermodel, American Idol, America’s got talent, etc), but everyone watches for one reason, to see an underdog story come true. Want proof? Look at the Susan Boyle video.
And this is what Top Gear does. It shows us what deep down we’d all love to do, if we were given a budget of their size. I would love to do a cheap car challenge with my friends which (nearly always) ends up destroying the car in some fashion. Or do a race across Europe. Or build an amphibious vehicle.
Now many criticize Top Gear for not catering to “normal people” and not doing enough “proper reviews”. But wouldn’t that be defeating the object, somewhat? When Top Gear WAS doing reviews of Vauxhall Vectras and Toyota Corollas (A.K.A “Old” Top Gear) did it capture the imaginations of people around the world?
There were probably a thousand other shows on American TV doing exactly the same thing, so what would have made “Old” Top Gear distinguishable from the rest? In fact, I find it strange that it’s normally “petrol heads” who criticize Top Gear for not doing enough reviews on “normal cars”.
You’d have thought, showing Lamborghini Gallardos doughnutting and Bugatti Veyron being maxxed out would get the petrol in their veins flowing? But no, what they actually want to see is a Honda Civic being tested on whether it has the best boot space in its class. Yeah, right(!)
Top Gear talks more about the car industry as a whole. They criticized the car scrappage scheme in the UK for not being environmentally sound, they moan about speed cameras & various new motoring laws and the price of petrol. These are topics WE’VE talked about on TTAC.
But for some reason, it’s fine for us to talk about it because “we’re The Truth About Cars and we’re committed to telling the truth about the car industry”, but when Top Gear does it, it’s seen as silly and frivolous.
Now as I mentioned earlier, the reason (I believe) for Top Gear’s success is the way it captured people’s imagination. Top Gear started doing stunts which, quite frankly, people hadn’t seen before on any show. Can anyone name a TV show (I won’t even say “car show”, just any show) before Top Gear which did stunts like this:
- Race an Aston Martin DB9 against the Eurostar/TGV to Monte Carlo, France?
- Cross the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle?
- Have a road trip across South America?
- Race a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti against a plane to Verbier, Switzerland?
- Try to see if they could go from London to Edinburgh and back again onone tank of fuel?
- Race a Mercedes-McClaren SLR against a boat to Oslo, Norway?
- Try to destroy a Toyota Hilux?
- Race a Bugatti Veyron against a Cessna 182 to London, UK?
- Try to send a Reliant Robin into space? (I doubt anyone had the budget to do that!)
- Have a road trip across Africa?
- Race a Nissan GT-R against the Shinkansen Bullet Train across Japan?
- Race a Toyota Hilux against a dog sled to the North Pole?
- Drag-raced a Bugatti Veyron against a Euro Fighter Typhoon Jet?
All of these stunts/races were thing people had rarely seen on TV, let alone on a car show. Now we come to the “Star in the reasonably priced car” segment. I’m going to gloss over the comments who say that it contains a load of British stars who they don’t know, because if you remember it’s a British show with, well, British stars.
My criticism stems from the petrol heads who see this part as the bit which could easily be cut out of the show. But I believe this segment has merit. Now, I’m not a fan of “celebrity culture”. I couldn’t give a toss what Madonna has been doing for her lunch. But a lot of people do care. As TTAC commentator Tricky Dicky eloquently puts it “The whole point of the ‘Star in the Reasonably Priced Car’ is NOT to deliver a benchmarkable assessment of driving skills, it is to get another angle on a celebrity doing something outside of their comfort zone.”
No-one actually cares if Michael Gambon has a perfect driving line. In fact, quite the opposite, we WANT to see how bad celebrities actually drive. And at the very worst, this segment has given us one thing. Andy Garcia, Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Jeff Goldblum driving a Kia C’eed. What other show has done that?!
Now is Top Gear perfect as it is? Hardly. Top Gear has thrown some clunkers our way. The bit where they tried to make their own electric car was painful to watch as it didn’t tell us anything and was quite unfunny. The caravanning episode, whilst funny, told us what we already knew; that caravanning is utter misery.
But even “The Sopranos” had some dud episodes, too (“Pine Barrens” springs to mind). To say Top Gear is brilliant all the time, tells us that,
1. There’s no room for improvement (which there clearly is!) and
2. You’re believing the hype.
Top Gear is a great show, but is it without fault? No.
So, there you have it, my case for why Top Gear should be given a great deal of respect for what it has done. It has got people who weren’t that interested in cars, interested in cars. And surely that can’t be a bad thing?
Disclaimer: Cammy Corrigan is fully aware that this article may end her writing career, but still went ahead with it. With a little TOO much encouragement from Bertel Schmitt, who said: “I’m a sucker for career-ending stories.”