Monday, December 20, 2010

A second (third, fourth, and fifth) look at Top Gear USA

My hometown of Washington, DC was stunned this past week, when Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan announced that old warhorse QB Donovan McNabb - who recently received the Dan Snyder Kiss Of Death in the form of a big contract extension - would be benched for the rest of the season. His performance over 13 weeks in a Burgundy & Gold uniform had been too inconsistent, the results on the scoreboard just didn't justify keeping the $14.7M superstar in the huddle. So, McNabb was replaced with perennial retread Rex Grossman - a Master of the Clipboard who hadn't started a NFL game in two years.

The results? Of course, the Redskins lost. Yet, while still not a winner, the change shows the shadow of some promise. Grossman, hardly the go-to guy in any coach's playbook, tossed four TDs in the midst of being sacked 5 times, and threw for more than 300 yards. For a loser, he had a career day.

Which brings me to Top Gear USA. Five episodes into its first season, the coach - if there is one for this show - would be smart to send in a spy to check out Mike Shanahan's playbook. The three stars of the show are still woefully irritating, and it looks as if there's no relief in sight.

There has been some of the promise I mentioned a minute ago - at least a shadow thereof: Tonight's episode was a Yankee carbon copy of a Top Gear UK challenge from about four years ago. The guys each spend some chump change on a car from GM's not so glorious past, run each of them through a series of challenges designed to highlight the rigors of decades of wear and tear, and then... well, at least the US show tonight declared a winner. (Top Gear's real secret: If you must go to the length of declaring which car won, then you've underserved your audience on the way to that end.)

To call this an improvement over the handful of previous episodes, is about like saying "well you know, she had one less genital wart than she had last week." A step in the right direction is not an end unto itself - it's a step.

In taking a early 70s vintage Olds Cutlass, a mid-80s Pontiac Fiero 2M6, and a freakin' huge mid-90s Buick Roadmaster to the Eaton Proving Grounds, we knew what we'd see - that the older cars no longer have good parking brakes. Then we got to see the cars run a brutal course with a colander suspended above the driver's head, dropping raw egg as the eggs broke (or in Rot Wood's case, didn't break).

The News... really wasn't. It was over almost as soon as it began, and was really forgettable. Want proof? I can't remember a damn thing anyone said. The "Big Star in a Small Car," this week being Tony Hawk, was easily the most boring Tony Hawk interview he's ever done. "So, like, you drive cars too, right?" was the general gist of the segment.

If the producers of TG USA want to improve the series by several leaps and bounds, it's time to take on the Shanahan Method: Turn the host's chairs into a weekly Gong Show. If a host sucks after a week or two - and it's not that hard to tell who's got it and who doesn't - hit the "Reject" button and get some fresh blood up there. I guarantee you that within, say, 3 weeks, we'd have a MUCH better show than we've seen so far.

Had the most irritating cast member had at least come away with his face plastered in egg, maybe the show wouldn't have... No, it still would've sucked. Perhaps not as badly as it did, but there's no escaping the trunkload of suck that is TG USA.

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