Top Gear America S2, BBC Three, review: where's Jeremy Clarkson when you need him?

Rob Corddry, Jethro Bovingdon and Dax Shepard get their supercar on
Rob Corddry, Jethro Bovingdon and Dax Shepard get their supercar on - BBC Studios

Whither the great British motoring programme? With Top Gear’s future in doubt following Freddie Flintoff’s high-speed crash and Amazon’s The Grand Tour reduced to occasional one-offs, we’re left with Top Gear America (BBC Three) for petrolhead entertainment. And my goodness, it’s thin gruel. Less of a roaring hot-rod, more of a rusting hatchback.

The second series of the US edition spluttered into gear with Ronseal-titled episode “Supercars in Montana”. It found “the guys” this is very much a show that deploys phrases like “the guys” heading to Butte, hometown of fabled stuntman Evel Knievel, hoping to be inspired by his daredevil exploits.

The Big Sky State’s open roads and liberal traffic laws meant supercars could be unleashed to their full potential. Would our three hosts hit speeds of 200mph? Or end up in the local cemetery alongside Knievel? Flintoff could be forgiven for changing channels.

Dax Shepard, leader of the gang but not fit to polish Jeremy Clarkson’s loafers, opted for a Ford GT. Rob Corddry a dead ringer for Breaking Bad’s Walter White, hopefully without the crystal meth empire hopped behind the wheel of a Lamborghini Aventador. As a visibly apprehensive “200mph virgin”, he was the equivalent of James “Captain Slow” May but without the wry eccentricity.

Token Briton Jethro Bovingdon a motoring journalist so obscure, he doesn’t have his own Wikipedia page made the budget-busting choice of a £3m Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport. He duly romped to victory by clocking 213mph.

There was no studio segment, no celebrity guests, no sign of The Stig nor The Allman Brothers theme tune (the one usually used on international versions of Top Gear). The only other feature was Corddry’s attempt to dispel an urban myth about his first ever car, the notoriously unsafe 1970s Ford Pinto. This was essentially an excuse for some predictable pyrotechnics.

With US commercial breaks removed, the running time came in at a Smartcar-sized 35 minutes. Cinematography was handsome, with widescreen vistas, shimmering heat haze and cutaways to indifferent livestock. Yet this pale facsimile was too bland, too basic and too, well, Americanised.

The trio lacked the personality and chemistry of our classic line-up. Teasing banter was tame. There were endless exclamations of “Oh my god!”, “Crazy!” and “Holy crap!”. Everything was celebrated with whoops and air-punches. Unforgivably, Shepard ended the episode by proclaiming “I’m so proud of us!”.

The fact that two of the trio were actors meant such gung-ho enthusiasm felt faked. It all seemed so pleased with itself, I longed for some self-deprecating humour. This was TV with spills but no thrills. Sorry, “the guys”, but I was left praying for a speedy Flintoff recovery –  and a Clarkson comeback.