The best thing I can say about the new season of Top Gear America, its second, is that it is a good, highly watchable car show. That is the best thing I can say because that can’t be said of nearly every other car show. Jethro Bovingdon, one of its three hosts — along with Dax Shepard and Rob Corddry — told me that this season is, indeed, the kind of show they always wanted to make the first time.
That first time, though, was a season produced under pandemic restrictions, meaning filming was largely contained to California, resulting in a show that felt a little forced. That feeling was compounded by the fact that the hosts’ chemistry just wasn’t there yet, the trio having only met on Zoom before filming began.
Neither of these problems return for season two of the show, which consists of ten episodes rolling out one-per-week starting Friday on MotorTrend+. I’ve watched most of it, having been given early access ahead of my conversation with Bovingdon. This time, the chemistry really is there. The locations — Montana, Seattle, and Las Vegas, among other places — add some heft and purpose. The show is now, in a word, cohesive. Bovingdon said that, behind the scenes, the three hosts were more confident, too.
“The great thing, for me, about working with someone like Rob is that they’re used to this. And they know when they can really forcefully say, ‘No, we’re not doing that,’” Bovingdon told me. “For me, almost as like a guest in this little world, it’s sometimes hard to be absolutely forthright ... But, as a team, we’re fortunate. We all agree on everything generally — not on car choices, but in terms of directions and stuff. We’ve always just produced a united front.”
Bovingdon admits there was a learning curve with the producers, especially when it came to his 20-plus-year career as a car reviewer, which began at the British magazine Evo. “I think the producers took a while, particularly with me. They’re like, ‘Well we’ve never really had to deal with someone who knows an awful lot about the cars’ ... They’re used to a normal Hollywood program production, if you like, where the talent turns up, does what you tell them, and goes home. With us, we were much more involved from start to finish. I think on Season 1 they were [hedging] around that and on Season 2 they were ready to embrace what we wanted to do.”
Friday’s premiere starts with the hosts putting a 2021 Ford GT Heritage Edition (Dax), a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ (Rob), and a Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport (Jethro) through their paces in Montana. In episode two the crew goes to Seattle in search of the best car for an executive. The following eight episodes continue like this. I won’t share spoilers except to reveal that there is a junkyard race, which Bovingdon says was the most fun he had on set. Of course, lots more hijinks ensue.
All the episodes were filmed over three or four months last summer. Bovingdon says he, Shepard, and Corddry are confident they’ve made a good show, though there are always nerves when the final product goes in front of viewers.
“I’ve always said this — I love making car videos, I just don’t want anyone to see them,” Bovingdon said. “Because you always worry about what the reaction is. I would obviously like everyone in the world to watch it and then suddenly to earn millions of dollars doing Season 3, 4 and 5. Sure success. But for the moment I’ll just take people enjoying it and liking it.”
Jokes aside, Bovingdon said a third season is up in the air at the moment — right now, the team is focused on getting Season 2 out there and enjoying as much success as possible. Beyond that, Shepard, Bovingdon and Corddry all feel that the show could go beyond its current 35-minute episode length.
“I think that would be the next evolution,” Bovingdon said. “If we could do that, I would love to go up to 44 minutes or whatever. The format would be for an hour of TV.”
Bovingdon said that, for the most part, the show is the genuine article, though he admits some rough edges have been smoothed. That’s not a crime; it’s how everyone makes car TV. More important is the fact that the hosts aren’t bored with the material, the biggest (non-punching) problem that afflicted later seasons of Clarkson-era Top Gear.
“It certainly feels fresh,” Bovingdon said. “I love going to set. I think that’s the one thing — you don’t have to fake it. Like, we turn up and invariably are either in a really cool car or in a really crappy car ... You know, that’s good. That’s interesting. That’s what I’ve said to the producers from day one, Dax and Rob the same: If it’s the right situation, then you don’t have to worry about anything else. It will happen, you know, it will unfold. It’s just like a group of mates going out. If you’re in the right situation, good stuff will happen.”
As a viewer, I was surprised at how well this trio works together, how cohesive and entertaining Season 2 turned out. Bovingdon found a few surprises as well. “I now want a Suzuki Jimny really, really badly,” he said, having driven the rugged little off-roader for an episode, “which I would never have expected.”