I loved Top Gear. It was the greatest magazine television show in the world. It’s brash, it’s silly and it’s brilliant. I don’t drive and I don’t care for cars, but watching the team putt around in third world countries with fourth world cars was raw, honest, and hilarious. The BBC seemed to have always had Top Gear’s back even when the team (mostly Jeremy Clarkson) annoyed Feminists, Special Interest Groups, Cyclists and the entire state of Argentina.
However, The BBC did have a breaking point. Like a continent-conquering king choking on a radish, The Top Gear Dynasty abruptly ended last year. During a catering dispute, Clarkson punched one of his producers. Clarkson was officially dismissed, and his co-hosts quickly followed. Despite the massive fan outrage, BBC decided to keep the show alive with a live heart transplant. It turns out they aren’t the greatest surgeons. The new roster was Chris Evans, an aging Breakfast Radio Host, and Matt Leblanc, star of the hit TV Series Joey. What better way to replace a team of excellent broadcaster friends, than with two has-been celebrities from different countries.
In the first shot, we are greeted with Chris Evans’ monster face. “Welcome to Top Gear.” He says, “with our all new, improved …. audience.” The camera zooms out to reveal an audience of around ten people, who all clap and cheer. During the all new, much more boring intro, Chris gives a tease. “Tonight!” HE SHOUTS with the tone of a hyperactive toddler. “I get chased! Matt gets chased and then, in a bizarre twist, I chase Matt and Matt chases me!” Chris ruins a Top Gear staple right out of the gate. Clarkson used to summarise the show’s features in a deadpan way. Chris attempts to do the same, but he drags it too long and ruins the delivery with his stupid ‘morning zoo’ radio shit.
Cut to the studio, the show seems to have taken advice from Hillary Clinton’s rally committee; the camera work makes the crowd look larger than it really is. The set is pretty much the same (except for one new orange light) but for some reason, Chris Evans has opted out of a lapel mic and chose to yell at the top of his lungs. He forgets to introduce himself and proceeds to introduce Matt Leblanc. Matt comes out of some big preschool doors and calls Chris over for an awkward high five. Chris runs around Matt like a child shouting ‘MATT LEBLANC EVERYBODYYYYYYY!!’
Chris then directs the camera over to a Vauxhall Vectra being sat on by what Chris calls, ‘the guys and girls from my local Indian restaurant’. He asks the audience why they’re here. One bloke from the audience WHO TOTALLY WASN’T PLANTED says, “They’re the new caterers!” and five people laugh.
To alienate the rest of the old Top Gear fans, Chris says, “We don’t talk about catering on the show anymore”. Apparently, the Indian restaurant crew represent one metric ton of downforce, which Chris says is enough force to turn an old time US muscle car into a lap time destroyer. Thus ends the most awkward intro sequence of all time. It’s so uncomfortable. The entire thing reeks of rehearsal and the audience laughs and cheers so hard, you’d think they were borrowed from an American Daytime television show.
The show nervously hits the ground running and falls flat on its face and continues with an awkward limp-run to make up for lost time. Chris delivers his lines like he’s got a gun to his head and his loud clownish cadence bulldozes any humour out of the situation. Matt Leblanc speaks little, but his calm delivery would be far more appropriate for the script. That’s right. An American is more reserve and subtle than the Brit. We’re three minutes in and I want to murder Chris Evans.
“Nigel, you incredulous hack,” you may be saying, “You can’t judge an entire show from its first five minutes!”
Well yes, you’re right. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but if the first chapter is absolute crap I start to get suspicious. Let’s continue. Chris Evans gets into a Supercar and shouts about it. In the first episode, we’re taken to an Airbase in the US. The 1 metric tonne of downforce previously mentioned comes from the Dodge Viper’s new spoiler or something. Chris never explains. He’s too busy screaming.
Soon, a challenger appears. The newest model of the Corvette Z06 is being driven by a German woman, Sabine Schmitz. Who is this woman? Is she a host? We don’t know. We can probably guess she’s a racing driver. The two set up a little game. The two have missile lock systems on the top of their vehicles. The first car to get full lock wins. That would be cool, but the race is obviously scripted. The two share lines from Top Gun that no-one remembers and race an incredibly scripted race and someone wins. You can’t pay attention to this part as you aren’t fully immunised to Chris Evans yet.
The best part of Top Gear is up now; the famous Top Gear challenges. Chris and Matt are tasked with driving to Blackpool in Reliant Rialtos, the successor to the three wheel car that Jeremy Clarkson flipped over numerous times during a review. As they exit London, Matt’s car breaks down. He uses his technical knowledge and passion for cars to keep his little car running despite constant breakdowns. Actually, I’m lying. The Reliant dies and Matt gets towed to Blackpool. He essentially gets bloody chauffeured to his destination. This is a recipe for award winning television.
The old gang had some technical prowess (although it felt like they had some unseen outside help at times). They brought their cars from the brink of death many times and were skilled enough to create ‘unique’ modifications. The new crew reject the relatable activities of DIY and jury rigging but I guess if you’re worth $50+ million dollars you don’t bother with this peasant drudgery. You just get someone from Switzerland to fix your car or throw it away.
Instead of ‘star in a reasonably priced car’ we have the infinitely less funny and less interesting ‘star in a Rallysport car’. The course is more or less the same but with some muddy bits tacked on. The interview segment has been revamped as well, we’re treated to at least two celebrity guests per week. Instead of crafting unique and interesting questions, there is now a standardised question list; “What was your first car?” followed by “What was your best car?”
These segments are quite long, the worst being in episode three. Chris Evans is a decent interviewer, his talk with Kevin Hart and a large boxer (who is probably only there because they couldn’t get Dwayne Johnson) was passable, but they talk about Kevin Hart’s car collection for ten goddamn minutes.
Speaking of Episode three, Chris Harris and Rory Reid, the presenters from the online only companion show Extra Gear are finally introduced in this episode. The two review a car each… but that’s all they do. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great reviewers, but that’s it. They felt like the same person. No personality displayed, no unique jokes, just straight talk about cars. In the back of my mind, I’m starting to think that the BBC realises that Top Gear will never be the comedy powerhouse it once was and is appealing to the small amount of people who watch it for the cars.
Matt Leblanc is to Top Gear what Ben Affleck is to BvS. Everyone doubted them but they went above and beyond. Matt’s segments are filled with action and big dumb, dick swinging bravado. In the series’ premiere, we first see him testing an Ariel Nomad, an innovative buggy that looks like something out of a Tom Cruise film. He races against motorcycle, a drone and some guy with a flawed parachuting machine. In the most recent episode, he’s taking a tour of London at 100 miles per hour in a big stupid muscle car driven by a Pro Rally Driver. Matt’s legitimately funny and the scenes are masterfully shot. You’d think such intense sequences would be at the start of the show, Nooooooope. They’re always dead last. You have to wade through oceans of shit to get to the diamond.
Relaunching an established brand is always a tricky job, even without millions of alienated fans waiting rip it to shreds. They knew that ratings would drop after the premiere so they needed to present the BEST material they had right off the bat to preserve as many viewers as possible. They failed. Ratings dropped by almost half 2.8 million by the second episode. The choices the Top Gear production team made are baffling. The second episode is clearly superior to the first in every way, so why did they start off so weak?
Chris Evans is the old, brightly coloured gear that doesn’t gel with everything else. Everyone is SICK to DEATH of the sugary, enthusiastic presenter shtick of the 1980s. It reeks of inauthenticity and corporate shilling. Presenters should be a friend to audience and reveal little bits about themselves and their personality as they go along. Speaking of friends, Chris has no chemistry with his co-presenter. Like the ginger runt trying to get the attention of the school soccer captain, Chris constantly strokes Matt’s ego. As for the other presenters, they’re barely seen or heard of in studio.
There are two fates for Top Gear. Either it will fade into obscurity like its American and Australian counterparts, or it will go down in history as the biggest television branding disaster of all time. Imagine you have a Formula One car; you can have the most powerful engine, the best brakes, world class handling and a fine Italian leather seat but if the driver’s complete trash you’re heading for a fiery explosion.