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Top Gear (U.S. Version) 

How is it that the British do everything better?

click to enlarge Lacking stiff upper lips, among other things
  • Lacking stiff upper lips, among other things

Maybe it’s the accent. Maybe that’s why we give British television so much love.

Say something in a posh British accent, and automatically it’s witty and intellectual; say it in a northern British accent and it’s automatically wry and cheeky. That’s linguistics.

We Americans have long been insecure about how we stack up culturally to our monocle-clad, top-hatted brethren across the pond. Even a compliment for The Office is legally required to be followed by an “of course, the British Office is better, naturally” disclaimer.

So when the long-in-the-works American version of Top Gear was officially launched, there was a collective grimace.

The British Top Gear, after all, was an international sensation. The combination of snark, egos, sexy cars, bombastic music and ludicrous stunts —a 400-mile race to the North Magnetic Pole, a beach assault with the Royal Marines in a Ford Fiesta — was such a brilliant formula that there had already been spin-offs in Australia and Russia.

I’d love to be the iconoclast, saying the American Top Gear is as good, nay, better than the British version. But something is missing in this new show. It’s not the editing, cinematography, or music — it’s as fast-paced, showy and lyrical as the British one.

And the American gimmicks are just as sublimely loony. A Dodge Viper tries to outmaneuver a Cobra attack helicopter. The world’s best drifter — as in Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift — rides shotgun to a blind driver in a drifting competition.

The problem, ultimately, is the acting. In all likelihood, much of the dialogue on both shows is scripted. But the British hosts — especially Jeremy Clarkson — are so charming and charismatic that it’s not noticeable. The American hosts, so far, seem uncomfortable. The Brits are smooth-giddy, the Americans nervous-giddy.

Put it this way: Both literally and metaphorically, the Brits dress in suit jackets, while the Americans dress in denim and flannel.

For now, Top Gear is decent middle-of-the-pack documentary-stunt television, worth slotting in the American cable hierarchy between Mythbusters and Junkyard Wars.

The hosts are what’s holding it back. They could start, perhaps, by hiring an accent coach.

Top Gear (U.S. version) (History, Sundays, 10 pm)


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