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Top Gear USA: an American Disaster Story

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JEREMY CLARKSON
PA

It's Christmas Eve, and huddled in the darkness atop a snow-covered bridge are three familiar figures, each contemplating the jump into the icy depths below. Suddenly, an angel appears - not a very good one; he's not even got any wings - and addresses the sorry-looking trio thusly: "James! Richard! Jeremy!" - for it is indeed Messrs May, Hammond and Clarkson that he has come to talk down - "don't do it," he says. "Let me first show you what life would have been like if you had never been born..."
And then he takes them indoors and makes them watch an episode of Top Gear USA.

"Ah," they say, as one, suddenly all smiles, as the closing credits roll. "You see!?" roars the angel. "You really have made a difference! Yes, you may have insulted everyone from the homosexual community to the whole of Mexico and yes, another way of looking at things would be to say that your own televisual success is to blame for this dreadful American copy of your show, but what I'm trying to say is that your version of Top Gear is the good one and, oh dear, I'm confusing myself now, but the point I was trying to make was don't fling yourselves off the sodding bridge or all we'll be left with is these three American idiots on BBC3 trying to do a 'spunky' magazine show about cars and FAILING MISERABLY!"

He wipes his brow, exhausted, and looks up to see if the three wise men are still with him. They are - and what a difference a lecture from an angel makes. Look! Clarkson's dancing a little jig with a beaming Hammond and James May is whistling 'Jingle Bells' as tears of unbridled joy flow down his slowly-thawing cheeks. Oh, thank goodness. Merry Christmas everybody! God bless us every one!

If you've not yet tuned in to Top Gear USA on a Friday night you can count yourself as one of life's lucky people - a future Lottery winner, perhaps, or the kind of person who would start work as a divorce lawyer the very day that Kim Kardashian made you her new best friend and asked for "a quiet word". Now don't get me wrong, I like Top Gear and I also like America. I love America, in fact, and still get mildly excited when I meet anyone from the States (so long as they're not armed or have blindingly white teeth), but Top Gear USA is a failure on every count.

It is, of course, impossible to state this with anything approaching impartiality, because like every other British male I've been brought up on the real version of this BBC classic, which has weaseled its way into my affection over the course of many years in much the same way as blue cheese and - who'd have guessed? - south east London. But it is entirely possible to watch Top Gear USA and form an opinion. And I have: it's rubbish.

The single positive thing about this new American clone - and I do mean clone because the show is an unashamedly direct copy - is that it serves to reinforce just how magnificent the British version actually is. It's little wonder that they've barely tinkered with the format in about 12 years; the Beeb are onto a good thing and they know it - it's the same kind of mentality that stopped JK Rowling from setting the final Harry Potter on a cruise ship.

As thoughts drifited to the British trio's now legendary American road trip, the reason why Top Gear USA doesn't work was suddenly staring me in the face. That particular episode's hilarity arose from Hammond, May and Clarkson's general fish-out-of water-ness, the cultural differences between the UK and America being right at the heart of the comedy. We're different, Brits and Americans. Similar, but not the same. And that is exactly why Top Gear USA feels so wrong.

Instead of hiring a talented American team to dream up a new motoring show inspired by the irreverence, fun and - well, yes - stupidity of the Top Gear we know and love, they plumped for a feeble facsimile. It could have been great. Instead, it's exactly the same, but delivered by three men who don't seem to get it, for an audience which seems similarly confused.

Proof of the pudding comes when they reel out The Stig and the audience go, "Huh?" Devoid of both context and history, he's just a man in white overalls with a helmet on. "Dude," you can almost hear the crowd whisper. "Who the hell is this guy? And tell me again why we can't see his face?"