New(ish) Top Gear

I said I would reserve judgement on Top Gear with new presenters until I had seen the show. I have. Judgement made. And I’m not sure it’s good news.

Firstly, Chris Evans is just too annoying. Too shouty. It suited TFI Friday all those years ago, for a bit of a Friday night knees-up. When we were all young. Now, it’s just a bit much. He’s also not very good at coming up with actual words. I’ll admit I have often disliked Clarkson, sometimes to a very large degree. But, he is a wordsmith. His line “the boot is not big enough for a mouse’s pants” still makes me laugh today. For all that oafish man’s faults (and they are many), he really can write. So can May. To be fair, so could script editor Richard Porter, and he’s gone now too. (I’m not that convinced about Hammond).

But Evans just isn’t geeky enough either. The show desperately needs some James May input. Some actual facts, from someone who likes all cars. Even ones that are a bit rubbish. Half the time, Evans sounds like he’s just coming out with stuff he read in a magazine once. I get the feeling he doesn’t actually know what he’s on about.

LeBlanc is the surprise. He’s actually very watchable, despite the sometimes annoying smugness that typified his role in Friends. Compared to Evans, it’s Mr Hollywood who actually feels more rooted in reality. Which tells you a lot.

I’ll leave the ‘cinematic’ features and challenges for a while, but have to say that Sabine Schmitz was rather underused. She just seemed to swear a lot. I’m sure she could actually give some genuine insight into a car rather than just shouting as much as Evans.

The most enjoyable part of the ‘star in a rallycross car’ piece was the engine noise of the MINI. That sounded great. Gordon Ramsey boasting about his LaFerrari is not good television. Not is you dropping a subtle hint that you also own one (it was quick, but it was there). And oh, look at this! More ridiculing of ‘first cars.’ No Mr Evans. Owning a Fiat Strada is not laughable. I’ve no idea who the other guest was (I don’t get out much) but he actually seemed quite likeable, though he proved to be another whipping boy for first car jokes. The crowd voting for they favourites was excruciating too.

The rallycross element was a good one, especially as the off-road tyres seemed ill-suited to dry tarmac. It made it entertaining to watch. Credit where credit is due, I liked that. The ‘reasonably priced car’ format badly needed an overhaul. It had never recovered from Tom Cruise ‘setting’ the fastest lap. Fair play, I’d say job done. On the actual driving bit at least.

I wasn’t keen on any of the studio segments. Too much bloody whooping for a start, but also the chemistry between Evans and LeBlanc just isn’t there. It could develop with time – I remember how utterly dreary ‘new’ Top Gear was in the early days, before May came along and it still look a series or two to get good. Some of the dreadful rubbish Evans came out with was nothing short of painful though. “The best thing about these cars, is that they’re built for pleasure alone,” he bellows, making a fist at the camera. WHAT?! You can hear the confusion in the crowd, as if they’re going, “did he just actually do that?” I’ve cringed less during episodes of Alan Partridge (which I absolutely hate by the way). Not cool.

The ‘fast car goes around a track’ thing is dull these days too, especially with Evans’ clueless commentary. It would have been better if he’d just shut up and let that V10 do the talking.

But, the biggest problem is that rather than come up with new ideas, the team have just gone in for blatant Top Gear copyism. I’d already tired with Top Gear, because the ideas were stale and the challenges absolutely false. The new show brings nothing new to that party, and it’s a party I just don’t want to be at. No, I don’t want to watch Reliants get ridiculed and destroyed (especially as one of them was apparently rather nice before they got hold of it). No, I don’t want to watch really rather nice Jeeps and Land Rovers being thrashed up a hillside. It’s just disrespectful to nice, old vehicles. There are lots of genuinely shit cars out there! Use one of those instead.

This strikes me as a missed opportunity, and the biggest reason why is Roadkill. It’s where two very knowledgeable and funny Americans do silly things with cars. But it isn’t staged, it isn’t fake. It just feels like it catalogues their lives. They work on the cars themselves. They have very little (compared to Top Gear) budget. But, they have skills, they have chemistry and they have lots and lots of knowledge. And V8s engines. They have lots of those too.

So, in conclusion, new Top Gear just isn’t new enough for me I’m afraid. It failed to grab me just as the latter years of the Clarkson era also failed to grab me. That’s a real shame. I was fully prepared to give it a go. I refused to jump on the bandwagon of rubbishing a show that hadn’t even happened. Even now, I’m not going to rant that it’s a waste of TV licence payers money, because it’s tiresome. I was hoping for better though. If it improves, do let me know, because while I’m no desperate rush to watch another episode, I do still hold out hope that better times are coming. There do need to be some serious improvements though.

3 thoughts on “New(ish) Top Gear

  1. The biggest issue here is that Top Gear evolved out of being “a car show about cars” into “an entertainment show that just happened to involve arsing about in cars” quite a while ago, but it remained as such as it then had broader appeal, hence more viewers, hence made more money. I was amazed to hear discussion in the office that I work in about Top Gear that essentially revolved around the entertainment value, and had very little to do with the cars themself. This in an office of an Engineering company… says volumes for what Top Gear had become.

    Any attempt to replicate this, to essentially continue to milk the market that that Top Gear effectively created for itself, is always going to end up failing in several ways. It’s new, so won’t have the chemistry, presence or feel of the old show, and it’s aiming for a particular market which broadly ignores the core value that the show could (should?) have. This means it is neither fish nor fowl, and very difficult to assess, as “car type people” will mourn the lack of actual car stuff, and those simply looking for entertainment will mourn the lack of the previous presenters and their style.

    Yes, they could have just started from scratch with a new car show and seen where it goes, but that is a very high risk process, as the likelyhood there is that it becomes another mildly unknown, marginally geeky car show with limited appeal. Like 5th gear: an interesting show, some excellent articles and some good technical bits, and not particularly high viewer numbers. And the BBC simply cannot afford to do that, so it’s no surprise they’ve gone for a replication of what TG had become rather than anything else. I suspect it will be less popular than the old TG, simply due to the presenters and style change rather than anything else, and will probably soldier on for a few series before someone at the BBC starts looking at the numbers, reliises that this no longer makes them the sort of revenue that TG used to, and they then look to re-hash it again, chasing that elusive marketplace that TG made for itself.

    tl:dr. You cannot engineer a tv show to be sucessfull. It just sort of happens. Or not.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with your summary of the tosh that is Top Gear. I skimmed through it on BBCi because it was just so cringeworthy; I shan’t bother watching again, life is too short. I feel that the programme has been devised to appeal to a global audience using focus groups and other marketing guff and the result was vacuous nonsense. For example, they never explained why they chose two partially destroyed Reliant Rialtos for their road trip nor why the destination was Blackpool. And as for that silly piece with the USAF planes; uuuugh! It seemed designed for morons with 128″ TVs who enjoy lots of bright images to stimulate their sparse neurons. It was also a great way to alienate socialists and pacifists like myself. Vlogs like yours along with various others on YouTube make this programme seem incredibly overblown and dated; I expect each Top Gear costs ¬£millions to make yet I’d rather watch paint dry. Rant finished; keep up the good work.

  3. Yes! 100% compliance with your statement. Funny, I was hoping for the same things out of ‘New Top Gear’. It’s so obvious how out-grown the ‘features’ of the program are, I was so looking forward to getting my teeth into something new. And when they do have something new (like the off-road section) Chris loves it, so I’m not sure we are alone in these feelings. Alas, fingers crossed for now they get a magic wand out before the next episode! Oh and wow, the painful old car destroying definitely just is a hurdle too high for me to continue watching.

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