Note: This review was originally posted on TV.com's sister site CNET Australia. There's a poll on that original article too, if you're interested.
It was always going to be a tough field to plough: re-mixing the BBC's hugely successful Top Gear into something uniquely Australian. Based on the evidence of the first show, we're not convinced they've succeeded.
It all started well enough, the intro and the set were both very faithful recreations of the UK version. Then they started talking. Part of the appeal of the British original is the repartee between the show's three hosts - something that's a result of a natural rapport built up over many seasons, as well as some very tight scripting. The banter in the Aussie version was stilted and overly eager to paint the three hosts into their respective positions - Charlie Cox as an antipodean Clarkson, Steve Pizzati as a stubbly Richard Hammond, and Warren Brown as a cartoon caricature of "Captain Slow" aka James May - by the second ad break.
Rushing to fill roles that are so well known to many of us already bordered on cringeworthy at times, with the low light being Cox's throw to the Australian Stig. The sense of rushing pervaded many parts of the first show. For instance, the review of the million dollar Maybach, which lead into the "What were they thinking?" segment, could have been stretched into a longer dissection-cum-diatribe, instead all we saw were a pair of hidden Maybach-branded headphones.
While the overuse of the vignetting effect in many of its segments hinted at the original Top Gear production values, it was painfully evident that SBS lacks the deep pockets of the BBC behemoth. Case in point, the track used for testing out both high-priced exotica and guest stars was not only short but, worse than that, poorly constructed for the available cameras. The track's corners were filmed, seemingly, in another postcode from behind a thicket of grass - it lacked any sense of speed or danger and at times even a finish line.
Added to this, the trio's first challenge of taking three soft-roader four-wheel drives from the sand to the snow was like televised prozac, especially when you consider the outlandishness of the challenges not taken by the Poms, like racing three jalopies across the salt flats of Botswana or pitting Supercar X against Public Transport Y. Surely a jaunt across the outback in something outrageous would have been more appropriate for the big bang first episode.
We can't help thinking that the producers would have been better off striking a more tangential path. They could have stolen some essential elements from the original (let's say irreverence for argument's sake), by absolutely nailing one facet (say the long form whacky challenge, for instance) and then mixing in longer indigenous elements (Mr Speaker we refer you to our previous comment about the Maybach segment). That, along with letting the presenters be themselves, would set the Aussie show apart from its illustrious forebear. By aping the original turn-for-turn, however, they've invited a head-to-head comparison that they can't hope to win.
Here's hoping the show finds something more original in its second episode.