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There's been mixed review of the Australian edition of BBC 2's infamous Top Gear program; some critics, probably under advertising pressure, urge viewers to give the hosts a chance to "find their niche", others say they love it, and still others describe it as a complete failure. Whatever the final judgment may be, a whole lot of people have their eyes on Top Gear Australia.


All over the world, crowds of crazed fanatics hold the names "Clarkson," "Hammond," and "May," in great regard. However, in America, a majority of the population doesn't have the slightest clue as to what Top Gear even is. This being said, a small yet highly devoted crowd of American enthusiasts does exist, myself being included in this group. The original show won my heart from the first time I saw Jeremy Clarkson review a car, and I have followed the show almost religiously for the better half of the last 4 years. When I heard news of this and the other Top Gear spin-offs, I, probably like every other male torrentist with too much spare time and a broadband connection, was intrigued. More Top Gear couldn't possibly be a bad thing. Or could it?

In 2002 Top Gear was cancelled due to low ratings. As a replacement, a show called Fifth Gear came to life. The producers of Fifth Gear tried desperately to win audiences over by appealing to "the common man". They did this by reviewing cars that people were actually likely to buy as opposed to the Ferraris and Lambos commonly featured on Top Gear. The problem with this is the cars people are likely to buy aren't the ones they want to watch on TV. The producers also appealed to the original audience of Top Gear by hiring 3 ex-Top Gear hosts to do the show as well as imitating the original Top Gear's casual, humorous tone. Despite their efforts, Fifth Gear was a huge failure, in my book at least (it was okay though, as the Fifth Gear's low ratings prompted the production of the new version of Top Gear, which has been an epic success). With the failure of Fifth Gear fresh in my mind, news of the new Top Gear series' worried me. Would they make the same mistakes Fifth Gear had made just a few years earlier? Or would they captivate the minds of the world like the original program had done decades ago?

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Lemme break it down for ya.

The Original:

A normal episode of the original Top Gear proceeds as follows:

-The show starts off with a review of (usually) a very fast car by one of the presenters (Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond or James May). If it isn't fast, the car will definitely have some kind of redeeming feature that makes it interesting. This review is usually humorous, informative, and persuasive all at the same time.

-After the initial review, the show presenters proceed to "do the news". The news is most always very interesting; it usually involves new cars, discussion of controversial subjects regarding motoring, and other new developments in the automobile industry. This portion of the show is also usually quite humorous and informative at the same time.

-The next few portions of the show can be a variety of things. Sometimes the presenters will be "ordered by the producers" to participate in "challenges" in three different cars, thus reviewing the cars. I love this part of the show because it's essentially just three gearheads mucking about with what seems to be an infinite budget. The possibilities are endless. Some sort of competition between the presenters also keeps the audience entertained.

-The rest of the show might include a race between two forms of transport. Races in the past have included cars like Ferraris, AMG Mercedes-Benz's, and even the Bugatti Veyron against speedboats, cruise liners, planes and trains. These races are usually fairly genuine, though the authenticity of some of the results seem sketchy.

-The show might also include other methods of reviewing cars. Pretty much if you can dream it, Top Gear can make it happen. Want to see a Toyota pickup truck modified for snow-use race a traditional dog-sled team to the North Pole? Done. Interested in amphibious cars? Top Gear can teach you how to make one and use it to cross the English Channel. Curious as to whether a Mercedes SLK is better than a Porsche Boxster S if you're trying to get away from thirty trained snipers? Top Gear holds the answer. There is no limit to the insanity.

-Another important part of the show is the "Star in a reasonably priced car" portion, in which a celebrity comes on the show and talks about their cars, followed by a hot lap of the track in a "reasonably priced car" (which usually ends up trashed after a few seasons). Jeremy Clarkson conducts this portion, and his natural interviewing style genuinely engages the audience. Watching celebrities spin out a cheap FWD car is also fun.

-The last important portion of the show I can think of is the Stig's "Power Laps". Every car that is reviewed on the show is given to the Stig after the video of the review ends. The Stig, a masked race car driver with legendary driving skills, proceeds to execute some very fearless driving and post impressive times. This portion of the show kind of becomes Top Gear's official stance on a car.

There are other portions which I have not mentioned, all of which follow the same general themes as described above.


The imitation:


A typical episode of Top Gear Australia (from what we've seen so far) consists of the following:

-Car reviews by one of the presenters, the names of which I do not deem worthy of mention. These are generally interesting enough, but that's only because of the cars. The presenters usually do a shitty job of making me laugh and making me trust their judgment.

-An imitation challenge. These are usually meant to be "quirky" and "clever", but fail to be either. I sometimes laugh AT the presenters, rather than WITH the presenters.

-A star in a "Bog Standard" car. I generally want to shoot myself by the time this portion comes on.

-Other unoriginal and generally lame ideas that make me want to physically harm everyone involved in the production of this god awful show.


The verdict:


Contrary to the beliefs of the producers of Top Gear Australia, the structure of a show has very little to do with anything - the presenters are what really make or break any show of this nature. The dynamic between Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May is what makes the original show so great. This dynamic cannot be created or emulated - it must be natural and genuine, or it won't work. The presenters of Top Gear Australia let you know their lines are scripted with every stupid grin and pathetic attempted joke. You grow to hate them after a very short time. By trying to copy someone else's dynamic, the presenters lose their own personality and become actors. I don't want to watch actors.

The other crucial mistake Top Gear Australia makes is steering the show away from proper gearheads. By trying to please the masses, the show's producers ignore the most important audience: the dedicated followers that are so excited by the show that they MUST tell everyone they meet about how great it is. These people "spread" Top Gear, like an infection. By ignoring this core group of people, the producers are making a MASSIVE mistake.

Sure, there is still time for the producers and presenters to wise up and make a decent automotive show, but from what I've seen thus far, they seem genuinely incapable of doing this. They need to stop emulating their British counterparts and make their own show. Until they do that, I can't say I'm a fan. I will, however, keep watching, with my fingers crossed and prayers said, hoping the people in charge wise up and produce something worthy of the Top Gear brand name.

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