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'Top Gear' (US) Recap: 'Big Rigs' (3.01)

Brittany Frederick Brittany Frederick
February 14th, 2012 10:03pm EST

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I'm doing an American Top Gear blog again. Join me as the property destruction commences.

Top Gear

Before we get started, a note: It's true that I've been on the fence about this show for awhile. Something about it didn't always click with me, and I said so when I used to write these reviews back in the first season. So why come back? Well, to borrow an old dating cliche: it wasn't them, it was me.  I had the opportunity to spend a day on the Top Gear set a few months ago, and I got to see first-hand how well suited for this show these presenters are and what it really takes to pull this show together. It gave me a new appreciation that I hope I can impart to some of my fellow Top Gear superfans.

So. Let's put this show in "drive," shall we?

Adam, Tanner and Rutledge have 24 hours to learn how to drive big rigs in Michigan. Well, if Jack Bauer can save the world in that time span, certainly they can pull this off, right? Maybe not; Rutledge figures that Adam is "definitely going to kill himself" and probably won't remember to take the parking brake off. As it turns out, it's Tanner who has issues getting started, which I'm sure happens once in every million tries.

The next challenge is to tackle an incline, and Tanner (whose ego might be a little bruised) suggests raising the stakes by risking the destruction of valuable personal property. Somehow, the guys convince Rutledge to do the task without his glasses on, which is insane but just the kind of thing I'd expect from this show. (I'm pretty sure Top Gear is synonymous with insane, both here and in the UK.) Despite the severe visual handicap, Rutledge succeeds, which puts the pressure on his co-hosts.

Tanner makes the mistake of uttering that dangerous phrase coined by Jeremy Clarkson: "How hard can it be?" He pulls off the challenge...but Adam decides to destroy his phone anyway, prompting Tanner to return the favor when it's Adam's turn. It's a sequence of events that's so true to the 'dysfunctional family' feel of the Top Gear franchise.

This wouldn't be a proper episode if there wasn't a race, and being that Tanner is a professional racer, it's not really surprising that he wins, even if he still can't get his truck started on the first try. Oh, and Adam gets to wield his middle finger, too. I have no idea which of the guys he was flipping off, but I'm sure they deserved it.

Now it's time to see if the guys can haul precious cargo on the highway. Adam's truck contains bowling balls, pianos and open paint cans. Tanner has an entire dinner party set up. But it's Rutledge the producers clearly hate more, because he's got a couple of lit barbecue grills and a lot of fireworks. Everyone is understandably nervous before they even leave the parking lot. "These people have no idea of the danger they're in right now," remarks Tanner when he sees passing pedestrians, before calling this "one of the dumbest things we've ever done on this show."

Entering the limits of the city of Marshall, things get even dicier. Adam nearly gives himself a heart attack between yelling at passing traffic and trying to figure out where they're going. Then Tanner takes a piece out of someone's car. The guys wisely decide to leave town and lessen the number of potential obstacles, but freeway driving doesn't necessarily help them, as they contend with ignorant drivers and a low bridge.

At some point, Rutledge's cargo unsurprisingly catches fire. "Usually, it's Adam on fire," Tanner informs us before rushing to see the fireworks go off in the back of Rutledge's truck. The Fourth of July-esque music added in post makes the moment, which also sees part of the nearby field go up in flames. Best Fourth of July on Valentine's Day ever.

Our hosts finally arrive at their destination to see that Tanner's dining room doesn't look as bad as they thought (although Adam calls it "an assassination attempt"), the inside of Adam's truck got a new paint job, and fireworks are still going off in Rutledge's cargo hold. It's the party that never ends, and that as usual has no clear winner.

This week's Big Star, Small Car is actor, writer and director Ed Burns, who grew up on Long Island as Adam did, and shares his taste in cars. He clocks in at 1:46.7, which is a respectable time indeed (and check out that new video-based lap board, so much easier than the previous one!)

Comparing this season premiere of Top Gear to the series premiere, it's easy to see how the show has vastly grown since it started. The hosts' chemistry is readily apparent, with that same lovingly antagonistic vibe one gets from watching the UK presenters in action, and it's clear that The Powers That Be have let them loose more, resulting in a much less restrained (and much more entertaining) show.

I'm pretty sure that our lawyers and executives won't let Adam, Tanner and Rutledge go camping with an AK-47 or visit Bolivia in cheap cars, so they might not reach the same heights of mayhem, but as I mentioned back in season one, these guys make this a fantastic show when they're allowed to be themselves. Having seen them for who they really are, I really enjoy watching them.

They share the same honest love of cars and willingness to break stereotypes (and rules, and body parts) that makes the British Top Gear so successful. If you can accept the fact that we're in a different culture - both in terms of cars and in terms of what this show can realistically get away with - then there's no reason not to like the American Top Gear, which has finally established its own identity while remaining true to the qualities that made me fall in love with this franchise.

(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.

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