"American Top Gear."
It's a phrase that's struck dread in the hearts of many for years. Fans of the hit BBC series - those of us sitting at home with our Jeremy Clarkson books and 'I Am The Stig' T-shirts, and yes, I am one - have heard rumblings about a US import and almost immediately worried one would go south (see: the American adaptation of Coupling, etc.) Yet after a false start (a busted NBC pilot hosted by Adam Carolla), History Channel made the concept a reality two years ago.
And guess what? It's not a nightmare. In fact, it's pretty good.
The cynics - and yes, I was one - are understandably protective of the brand, but if you know what makes the History series tick, you might look at it differently. After spending a day on the set, I certainly do.
It's true that we Americans can't expect to touch the original series hosted by Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May; without them, there wouldn't be any Top Gear to speak of. The American Top Gear is not the British Top Gear without the accents. (We have more lawyers to appease.) The American version isn't trying to emulate the British version; it's forging its own identity, one that involves less caravans exploding, more American culture, and its own trio of hosts who aren't trying so actively to kill one another...yet.
There's Adam Ferrara, the standup comic and Rescue Me star who's so funny that when I see him two months later at the Hollywood Improv, I'll be the one front row center laughing so hard I've hurt myself. Both he and Clarkson are prone to destroying everything in their path, but Adam has better hair and would probably win in a fight.
He's joined by racing driver Tanner Foust, the only survivor from that failed NBC pilot, who has my respect because he's done stunt driving in my beloved Fast & Furious film series (even if he started with Tokyo Drift). Like Hammond, women love him. His good looks get him hit on while I'm standing there laughing.
Then there's Rutledge Wood, the NASCAR analyst who's the closest thing the group has to a voice of reason, if that voice of reason once wore an inflatable alligator as an outfit. He's one of those nice guys you just want to hug. I'd say this makes him the May of the group, but I don't think Rutledge would get lost on an oval.
They resist the urge to compare themselves to their predecessors ("Being fans of the show, you can't do it," Adam says). There's one big similarity, though: just as it's obvious that Jeremy, Richard and James get along so well, it's clear that Adam, Tanner and Rutledge are having the time of their lives playing in the Top Gear sandbox.