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)
Undeclared captured the spirit of freshman dorm life; Greek, the camaraderie of a fraternity; Community, the glorious insanity of going overboard on college assignments and hijiinks; and Blue Mountain State, the high school senior football player’s Four Loko-blackout fantasy of what college is like. Glory Daze is a unique take on the college experience only in that it takes place in the ‘80s. So, less Facebook drama, more tangled cassette tapes. (TBS, Tuesdays, 10 pm)
Get Out Alive
Escaping life-or-death scenarios is the sort of thing we love to think about while awake at night, walking through exactly when we’d disarm the hijacker. But when it actually happens, with adrenaline coursing through your veins and urine coursing through your pants, it’s another thing entirely. This documentary series interweaves dramatic reenactments with interviews with people who narrowly escaped death. (Discovery, Saturdays, 10 pm)
In the future, Andy Warhol once said, every kitschy D-list celebrity will get his or her own long-running train wreck of a reality television show. Now that we, as viewers, can watch the high jinks of Baywatch beauty David Hasselhoff’s family, we know how prescient Warhol was. Clearly, a visionary. (Hasselhoff, I mean.) (A&E, Sundays, 10 pm)