I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say the American versions of Top Gear have had a rough history. Top Gear USA made it through four seasons with some ok episodes, but it never landed as well as the British original. And Top Gear America, starring the banker who gets shot at the beginning of The Dark Knight? I don’t know who asked for that. I also don’t know if anyone asked questions when it got axed.
But America is such a vast and special place that we must try again with our Top Gear, and so, here we are with a new show and a new cast. Even if it can’t capture the magic of the original, can it find a wider audience this time?
America’s new Top Gear hosts (or “presenters,” if you insist on being all British about it) are actor, gearhead and Andrew Collins’ stunt double Dax Shepard, comedian and Daily Show veteran Rob Corddry, and British motoring journalist Jethro Bovingdon. This time, the show will launch exclusively on MotorTrend’s streaming app thing. I don’t know anyone who actually has that, but I once produced a TV show on Univision’s obscure deep-arse cable network for woke millennials, so who am I to talk?
At the very least—or at least in written statement form—these guys seem to have a semblance of an understanding of what made the Clarkson, Hammond and May era of Top Gear worth watching in the first place: the interplay between the hosts. Here’s MotorTrend:
“If we’re ever given a script, I promise the viewers that I’m going to light it on fire and throw it away,” Corddry said. “So you can count on me for that, at least. I really think that the strength of this show is going to be an honest interplay between the three of us.”
Corddry, like Shepard and Bovingdon, is both a lifelong car enthusiast and big Top Gear fan.
“I feel like that’s the one prerequisite the host should have,” Shepard said. “Cars are my full-time hobby. It’s the only reason I act: to acquire money to buy s—t that you put gas in.”
Good words, for sure! But Top Gear worked because it was three journalists, people whose jobs it were to know, inform, and criticise, and who were given time to develop a relationship with one another. I hope these guys have truly natural chemistry with one another and aren’t just thrown into a supercar and ordered to Make Good TV, which seems to be the reason why the last two iterations failed. And at the same time, aren’t concerned with losing any sort of relationship with a company they may be talking about.
Corddry admits he’s “not a walking automotive encyclopaedia” the way the two other guys are, but in a way that makes him a stand-in for a big chunk of the audience. At its best Top Gear wasn’t just for the nerds—it was for everyone, and when done right it made people care about the world of speed. If he does it right, he can be a part of bridging those two worlds.
Shepard, however, is a true enthusiast as well as an actor. He’s a friend of the site and a lover of fast wagons. He knows his shit. So does Bovingdon. He’s an excellent automotive journalist and video host.
At the same time, I’ll share my misgivings about this Top Gear trio being three more white dudes yet again. Modern car culture in America is, slowly but surely, becoming more diverse and inclusive as it moves past empty Boomer-Corvette-Route 66 nostalgia bullshit. It has to be that way if it’s going to meet the technological changes yet to come—to say nothing of the world’s shifting attitudes about cars.
This could’ve been a chance to get some women or some more people of colour on the world’s most famous motoring program, to show what the new faces of car culture look like. That’s the show I want to watch, if someone ever has the brains and the guts to make it. And I sincerely hope this version of Top Gear can manage to be a Top Gear for everybody.
Alternative idea: put Kristen Bell on the show. Just her, and only her. I want that Top Gear America, please.