Top Gear Australia has arrived. It is clear, now, that the Top Gear format has been franchised, in the true sense of the word. Everything from the cast, the theme music, the set, right down to the seating positions of the presenters during the news segment pretty much matches the UK show frame for frame.
On the one hand, you can see why the producers have taken such a formulaic approach. After all, the original format has achieved enviable worldwide success. However, such was the degree of imitation that the viewer almost has a right to feel short changed. We’re only one episode in, granted, but it does seem as though the opportunity to give Top Gear Australia some genuine local flavour has been missed.
Conversely, by taking such a paint it by numbers approach Steve Pizzati, Charlie Cox and Warren Brown (pictured above) have been handed a great foundation from which to build. Indeed, take a look at the first two series of Top Gear UK and you’ll see the original trio needed time to settle in and build the camaraderie many enjoy today. For example, the first piece in the Australian format was a Surf-to-Snow Soft Roader Challenge. The challenge films rely heavily on the chemistry of the leading men and perhaps this was too bold an opening move as, at times, their mateship seemed a bit forced. This not to say the guys weren’t genuine, just that, the audience needs time to learn and familiarise itself with the characters. If my memory serves me correctly, the first challenge on the UK show was the Â£1500 Porsche Challenge, which aired in Series 5â€”ample time for Clarkson, Hammond and May to have established their individual niche.
The good news is the Australian cast has genuine potential and, with such high expectations placed on them, the first few episodes, and perhaps the first series, were always going to be a tough gig. Charlie Cox is currently the most composed in front of the camera, no surpise there given his background. Warren Brown has a charming and unassuming appeal and you sense he will improve greatly as time goes on. Steve Pizzati has a charismatic effervessence, although he seems to have misplaced his chill pills. With more time in front of the lens he will no doubt learn to calm his speech and bring a more natural presence to screen. I actually really liked his idea of renaming The Stig to Stiggsy, or at least, here was one piece of the Top Gear puzzle that really should have taken a greater departure from the UK format. The Stig concept is great, of course, but there is only one Stig, creating a ‘new’ duplicate was a step too far.
Despite the criticisms AUSmotive will be glued to the couch for the next seven weeks. Based on tonight’s showing there is reason to look forward to the rest of the series. More importantly, perhaps, there are also good signs that the three front men have the potential to establish a likeable and believeable bond that respects the viewer’s trust in the Top Gear name.
Related reading: No mess, but an unsteady first lap (Sydney Morning Herald)
TOP GEAR AUSTRALIA
If you thought the Brits had done it all with Top Gear – wait until you see Top Gear Australia, debuting on SBS Television on Monday 29 September at 7:30pm.
In the first episode of an eight-part series, hosts Charlie Cox, Warren Brown and Steve Pizzati play hard with all-wheel drives on sand and snow.
There is a glimpse of the new LP560 Lamborghini Gallardo super sportscar, Charlie test drives the latest Porsche 911 and Warren tests the appetite of Great White Sharks off the coast of Port Lincoln â€“ using himself as the bait.
One of Australiaâ€™s hottest actors, Vince Colosimo (starring in SBSâ€™s Carla Cametti, PD), is Top Gear Australiaâ€™s first studio guest.
â€œSurf, snow, sand, sharks and supercars – episode one of Top Gear Australia has got the lot!â€ said Top Gear Australiaâ€™s SBS Executive Producer, Denise Eriksen.
â€œCharlie, Warren and Steve – well, Charlie and Steve – have driven like stars and Warren has done his best with sharks and sausages.â€
â€œSBS is incredibly proud of this first episode in an amazing new series which takes Australia’s passion for cars in exciting new directions.â€
Top Gear Australia debuts on SBS, Monday 29 September at 7:30pm.