When you’re charged with the task of producing a local version of an overseas format, international producers invariably insist you follow a tried and true format. So You Think You Can Dance Australia looks the same as the American version. For years Sale of the Century was copied around the world right down to Tony Barber’s bouncy entry. Sticking to the format is considered one of the only safeguards in ‘fool-proofing’ any new version.
But it brings with it the challenge: how do you make it your own? So it is with Top Gear Australia.
We love the British prototype for a myriad of reasons. Front and centre are the charismatic hosts. Add to that the brilliant storytelling of a potentially dull product (cars). Throw in the lavish cinematography, the production values, the stirring music, the political undertones, and, dammit, the absolute hide of the stunts.
All of these have been readily identified by the Australian producers, Freehand (part-owned by the BBC). All of these have been attempted in one form or another, with the brazen task of “Australian-ising” the content in look and tone.
In episode one, the three hosts were all confident, fluid and engaging in their presentation. If there were any nerves, they weren’t apparent here. For three disparate strangers to click with relative ease is something of an accomplishment in itself. That said, it is also clear that so far they are yet to dig deep and eke out their own group chemistry. These three seem to have carbon copied the heirarchy of the Brits.
Charlie Cox is, like Jeremy Clarkson, the alpha-male, the team leader, the voice of wisdom. Steve Pizzati is the cheeky, fresh-faced larrikin a la Richard Hammond, and Warren Brown is the left-of-centre counterpart to James May.
All three spent the episode deriding one another, insulting their motoring skills, yearning to top one another. This is a branding of the UK hosts, borne of true chemistry. As the Australian series progresses, the local hosts will need to find a way of interacting that, like the show, seeks to stand on its own feet.
The production values from the Aussie team are excellent. Here is our big, brown land, a better off-the-road destination than the UK can ever dream of. With their clever use of filters and aerial shots, the show excelled on this level.
The stunts in the first episode were also formidable, scaling the sand dunes, battling the icy elements, and, just when you thought “yeah but where’s the weekly stunt that is so Top Gear audacious?”, Warren was sunk into shark-infested waters in a Moke.
If the show can upkeep sequences that also speak to the ‘everyman driver’ it will chart an impressive course.
One comment from Charlie Cox about a standard Porsche being more economical than a Toyota Camry by “a poofteenth” was completely unnecessary, and coming from a diverse broadcaster such as SBS certainly disappointing. Jeremy Clarkson once apologised for calling a car “a bit gay” -it seems the locals are formatting plenty from the UK.
We all know The Stig isn’t really The Stig. There’s only one Stig, guys. Studio segments were somewhat overcooked with commentary, no doubt the show will gain more confidence to allow itself a little breathing space.
For a first episode, Top Gear Australia was nonetheless an impressive first lap for a show with such a high bar.
Top Gear Australia airs Mondays at 7:30pm on SBS.