It’s had a couple of previous iterations on SBS, and since Channel 9’s coup there’s been a lot promised of Top Gear Australia. The cynics mustered (including me), proffering their reasons why this third reboot of the hit UK series would fail. Everything from budget to host selection to lack of high end cars to the fact that every public road in Australia has a speed limit of 110km/h or less.
The comparisons are obvious (contractually so), but somewhat unfair. Shane Jacobsen is settling in well as the anchor host. Steve Pizzati, the only survivor of the SBS incarnations of TGA is affable enough. Ewen Page didn’t make a great first impression on me, but the more I watch the more infectious his enthusiasm is. He also brings some necessary credibility as editor of Top Gear Australia magazine & the TopGear.com website.
After 3 episodes, it’s difficult for viewers to really connect with the hosts yet, but the hosts seem to be bouncing off each other quite well. At times it does seem a little forced, but once you’ve smashed into your mate’s caravan on a challenge, what’s a night under the stars between friends? The antics are suitably Aussie with familiarities & jokes at others expense, & the hosts to reveal (scripted or otherwise) their love for the rich history of motoring in Australia.
The Top Gear challenges are stuff of legend, and while Top Gear Australia hasn’t sent their men to the South Pole in a car – yet – they are working on delivering the same standard of challenges we see on it’s bigger brother, albeit with substantially less budget. I did enjoy Page’s chance to take Mark Winterbottom’s V8 Supercar for a run in inner suburban Sydney (below). Not so fast when you introduce roundabouts, are they?
There won’t be an unmasking drama with the Aussie Stig, as Antipodean viewers will likely not care who it is, just how fast he can get the test cars around the track at Camden airport in Sydney. “Star in a reasonably priced car” has become “Beaut root in a ute” (at least from my point of view, just to continue the flavour). Cars are tested & reviewed, although with decidedly less gusto given the lack of both opportunity to access higher end cars and decent roads to run them on. The lack of decent web presence may be as much an indication that Ch9 itself is sussing out how the show performs before investing too much into it. The exterior packages are, however, shot with the same cinematic eye that the UK show is famous for: sweeping landscapes, geometric close ups, & fast cars juxtaposed against a serene backdrop. These pieces look glorious & that’s gotta be expensive.
The inclusion of Shane Warne as a “special reporter” is a marriage of convenience – Ch9 has him on contract, and they have to get their money’s worth out of him somehow. May as well be this until his other show starts (God, let’s hope that never sees the light of day). His input is superfluous and having Warne in the show brings nothing extra. It’d be more interesting if he took the piss and had to drive around the TGA track under a time limit whilst texting & having a ciggie in the celebrity ute. Send one of the Aussie hosts to do that job, OR use the UK hosts in special spots especially recorded for TGA… although that latter idea might reveal the flaws in TGA far too brightly. Hmm…
Humourous aside – watching Shane talk with Craig & Andrew from The Chaser (celebs in the ute in S03E03), and before he revealed their times to them, he holds the card with their times on it up to the camera accidentally so we all at home can tell before he reveals it. For two minutes. And Craig managed to see it. There are still some simple tricks that Clarkson has mastered that are still to be learned by this particular apprentice, it seems (that starts at 5:40 in the video below).
If you’re a dedicated Top Gear UK fan, you’ll likely be unimpressed with Top Gear Australia. The hosts are definitely NOT Clarkson, Hammond & May (as was evidenced when they had the crossover special back in September 2010). If you keep an open mind, love fast cars, and don’t demand too much from the show then you’ll be set. It’s a fun ride while it lasts, and more people should get behind it.
Top Gear Australia, 7:30pm Tuesdays, Ch9
Image/Video sources: Top Gear; Channel 9.