Preview-review: /DRIVE on NBCSN

The bar has been set exceptionally high for automotive programming with shows like Top Gear having brought us into a world in which car shows can be more than simply informative but rather genuine entertainment. This alongside the blossoming of web-based films finally gave us a new view into the realm of cars being used for enjoyment, and in doing so a wide number of ways to watch this new-found enthusiasm for cars-on-camera has taken form.
Among these is /DRIVE. Now in its fourth season, high praise is to be sung for the show for which the creators once had to fight to keep alive. The effort invested is evident, and /DRIVE presents itself as exceptionally well-produced, well-shot, and damn-enjoyable entertainment. Having been in attendance at the Season Four premiere party and also having viewed /DRIVE in its past iterations, I had high expectations upon sitting down to watch a few preview episodes of this season– and I’m happy to report that the show fully satisfies.
What more can be said of the latest season of /DRIVE, at least that of which I have seen? Click past the jump to find out.

It seems as if the guys have truly found their stride this season. Those of us familiar with Top Gear at its peak remember the comfort level that the hosts displayed as much as we remember how much fun it always seemed they were having, even, and especially, at each others’ expenses. If there’s one standout characteristic of /DRIVE it’s the omni-presence of that same feeling that the hosts have been friends for long enough to know each other’s’ next moves as well as which of each others’ buttons they can/can’t push without crossing “the line.” And for good reason: at this point /DRIVE’s crew has been working together for seemingly forever. Their on-camera charisma is that of a group of friends, not a group of thrown-togethers. At times in the show this causes a scripted-feel due to them actually having to present their lines rather than just going about their normal conversation, and though the hosts aren’t the greatest of actors it doesn’t remotely detract from the overall enjoyment.

/DRIVE pushes to be an entertainment-heavy program meant for a wide spectrum of enthusiasts rather than one for would-be consumers concerned with nuances like depreciation, and that’s just fine by me. Specific details about the cars themselves are relatively slim (at least in the episodes I screened and at least compared to the hosts’ respective internet shows), but as far as I’m concerned it’s very easy to run a Google search should you want to know a car’s every specification. When I’m watching an entertainment show, and especially one on television, the point is to be entertained, not to listen to the hosts recite press junkets. In turn the lack of numbers-heavy info makes the show very approachable; it won’t scare away the more casual car fans and it also opens it up to those less interested in the nitty-gritty of the cars and more interested in what one can do– or see– driving said cars.

And what of the cars themselves? I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the vehicular eye candy that was aggregated for our viewing pleasure. Ford’s new GT and McLaren’s 570GT are the big-name bookends to the season, but a strong mix the likes of DB11, NSX, TTRS, Countach, Raptor, and many others fill the gaps. It’s no small feat to capture vehicles still or in motion, and the camera crew did so beautifully. Their work cannot be neglected: the videography and cinematography rivals that of Top Gear, if a bit less highly-polished and even less so over-produced on the added-in visuals side.

In Miami Vices, the first of the three episodes I screened, the crew travels to Florida to explore Miami’s car culture while paying homage to the overtly styled supercars of yore, but with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way of looking back upon the era in which they were sold. The episode’s pacing isn’t perfect and it could use a bit more voice-over narration, but the editing is absolutely spot-on, highlighted by the 1980s-style bits with Harris and Spinelli. With significantly more storytelling than fact-spewing, you really get the feeling this is about the emotions cars bring out rather than just what a spec sheet says. So much enjoyment and laughter is shared by the hosts that it’s a shame we can’t see a full-length blooper reel.

In the second, Cheap Racing, the hosts compete in ChumpCar, one of the “inexpensive” series so prominent today. With multiple cameras rolling for twenty-four-hours each it must have been massively difficult to compile this episode, and it all comes together exceptionally. There’s no deep suspense but perhaps that’s because it didn’t have to be engineered into the story; on its own it was fun to watch and you find yourself rooting for the team, almost cheering them on. Oh, and if Car 419 is an homage to Farah’s long-defunct Garage 419, it’s a hat-tip well done.

The National Parks Tribute was the last preview, and it airs in full on November 6th. If any episode struck a chord with me it was this one: it’s a purposeful urging to get in your car, point to the nearest sight-seeing locale, and go. Of what I’ve seen, this episode best showcases Tangent Vector’s proficiency in cinematography and editing. Nowadays being “good” at such tasks is easy, but to do so in a way that reflects the cars and the hosts so well is where /DRIVE shines. Multiple shots– particularly that of the Aston rolling through a tunnel and also that of Roy and the plane– were jaw-dropping good. I’ll be critical briefly and say that the studio segment is wholly unnecessary, and the time it accounts for could be better dedicated elsewhere. And while very little time was actually spent discussing the driving dynamics of each car, this again nails in the point of /DRIVE being an adventure-and-excitement-minded program rather than an old-school car show and, with such broad, encompassing stories being told, they still manage quite well for the allotted time.

Sounds enjoyable, right? Of course it is. The number of car shows I watch has decreased recently but this is one that is fully worth the time. The crew at /DRIVE did a commendable job of making a program true to themselves but with enough mass-market appeal to really strike a chord with an audience even wider than their respective internet fan bases. The continued parallels I draw between /DRIVE and Top Gear are not without purpose: this is car television as it should be, hosted by genuinely enjoyable-to-watch enthusiasts, made by truly talented filmmakers, and it’s a can’t-miss if you’re fans of the cars, the hosts, or, especially so, both. The end of the season is already drawing near for /DRIVE but be sure to check the schedule below and show your support by watching the remainder of the season.

In Season 4 of /DRIVE on NBC Sports, hosts Chris Harris, Mike Spinelli, Matt Farah, and Alex Roy explore speed, technology, and car culture. From Miami to Iceland, Italy to Norway, they take an exhilarating look at sports cars, the future of electric vehicles, the science of speed, low-budget motorsports and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
EPISODE 1: What Makes Fast
AIRS: Thursday October 19th at 9:00pm
All the elements of speed are revealed as Matt Farah takes a Camaro 1LE to a NASCAR wind tunnel, Mike Spinelli drives a lightweight Ariel Atom 3S, and Chris Harris goes flat out in a Ford GT.
EPISODE 2: Miami Vices
AIRS: Thursday October 19th at 9:00pm
A hilarious look at the best (and worst) of Miami’s car scene with a new Lamborghini, an old Ferrari, a speed boat, and a donk limousine.
EPISODE 3: Cheap Racing
AIRS: Thursday October 26th at 9:00pm
Chris Harris, Matt Farah, and Mike Spinelli try to match lap times with a pro driver, as they test the limits of a beater BMW in a grueling, 24-hour endurance race.
EPISODE 4: Electrification
AIRS: Thursday October 26th at 9:30pm
The hosts explore the high-speed, high-performance future of electric and hybrid cars, from Tesla, to Porsche, to Koenigsegg, to the Acura NSX.
EPISODE 5: Italy Returns
AIRS: Thursday November 2nd at 9:00pm
What makes Italian cars so weird and wonderful? The team travels to Italy to drive the country’s best cars, roads, and race tracks to find the answer.
EPISODE 6: National Parks Tribute
AIRS: Thursday November 2nd at 9:30pm
Grand touring cars are the focus, as the hosts embark on an epic burn through the great national parks of the American West, from Zion to Death Valley to Yosemite.
EPISODE 7: Iceland Adventure
AIRS: Thursday November 9th at 9:00pm
(One-hour special.) The beauty of Iceland in summer is the backdrop for a race between Matt Farah, who takes the long way around, finding great roads in a McLaren 570GT, and Mike Spinelli and Chris Harris, who rough it across the country’s volcanic center in a Ford Raptor.

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2 responses to “Preview-review: /DRIVE on NBCSN”

  1. outback_ute Avatar

    I think I’ve only seen one or two of the earlier /Drive episodes, but they were good.
    Recently I have been watching last season’s Grand Tour – everything that was bad about the later years of Top Gear pre-Incident. Some segments are good, but there is just too much pointless bickering and over-use of jokes that don’t warrant it. Glad that TG had the direction change really.

  2. Troggy Avatar

    I had to google Donk Limousine… wished I hadn’t.