So it finally happened – Top Gear started airing again on 29 June with new hosts, Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc. Naysayers have shrugged it off from the get-go, saying that it will never emulate the success of the previous hosts – and so far, the critics have been right.
However, as someone who has watched the show for the past decade, I was willing to give the new edition a chance.
Well, I finally got around to watching the first two episodes of the new series, and I am absolutely sure of which side of the fence I am on. (Hint: its the side most fans agree upon.)
Before getting into that, a little history about Top Gear for the uninitiated.
What Top Gear Used To Be
Top Gear started in 1977 and ran for 24 years as a simple, half-hour long car review show. During its original run from 1988 to 2000, former presenter Jeremy Clarkson was a mainstay of the show. With termination of the show looming in 2001, Jeremy Clarkson and producer Andy Wilman managed to keep it afloat with a pitch to introduce a new format which the BBC took up.
Thus began a 13 year dynasty of the greatest car show ‘in the world‘.
The Three Stooges
From 2002, the new show centered around the (mis)adventures of three main hosts, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, who joined from the second series onwards. The synergy between the three hosts was as amazing to watch as it was entertaining.
From the constant bickering, to the iconic one liners when describing cars they were reviewing, to the exotic locations they filmed at when doing challenges, they were the perfect mix of witty documentary and action. Fire, explosions and chase scenes, on top of the latest multi-million dollar supercars, were staples that kept viewers engaged.
The Orangutan (Clarkson), The Hamster (Hammond), and Captain Slow (May) were winning fans all over the world and have become pop culture icons in their own right. Along with the magic of producer Andy Wilman behind the scenes, Top Gear had the complete package.
As with popular shows though, there are bound to be controversies.
Top Gear is no stranger to complaints and altercations.
From getting stopped by the police in Europe and United States, to driving away from an angry mob in Argentina, these elements added a lot of realism to the show, in spite of the dangers they presented. Clarkson in particular has been on the receiving end of potential lawsuits and complaints from rights groups for things he has said on the show. He admittedly let slip many-a-time racial slurs and unacceptable historical references, but has promptly apologised each time.
But the show still weathered through all this negativity, and what finally broke up the party was an internal scuffle.
Following allegations that Jeremy Clarkson abused producer Oisin Tymon in March 2015, the BBC announced that his contract would not be renewed. Shortly after, producer Andy Wilman, and co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May also decided to part ways with Top Gear.
The Reboot That Failed To Live Up To Expectations
So there I was, with the first two episodes ready to be viewed.
The all-too-familiar intro plays and then cuts into the studio – so far so good you may think. It all went downhill, though, after Chris Evans started conversing. What followed is a series of cringe-worthy dialogue that tries to poke fun at what happened to the previous hosts.
Normally that would be fine, but Evans failed to deliver them with the same effortless finesse that Jeremy Clarkson could.
On its premiere, it was dubbed the worst programme on that weekend, with viewership dropping by a further 1.6 million on the second episode . The one on the receiving end of critics and fans is actually Evans; Matt LeBlanc of Friends fame, surprisingly, is a forerunner in the popularity stakes.
Evans, up until the second episode, has been trying too hard to imitate the presenting style of the previous hosts, and boy, is it an awkward sight to behold!
That scripted laughter from the audience too is painfully obvious, and was deservedly slammed by various media across the United Kingdom. Gone is the wit and spontaneity of its predecessor. Now, it just feels like watching an unfunny stand-up comedy with expensive cars and celebrities.
The Death Of Yet Another Iconic Show
I would equate the impact Top Gear had to the mainstream viewer on par with that of a recently defunct, and equally entertaining, Mythbusters. Just as how Mythbusters made science cool, Top Gear turned car review shows into a spectacle that is digestible by anyone watching, regardless of demographic. It brought the love of cars to the masses.
As Chris Mills from BGR puts it:
“What the BBC was really left with was a format, an incredibly well-known brand, and a man in an all-white racing suit. Unfortunately, rather than trying to start over with a different concept for a car show — what Clarkson, Hammond and May did when they first rebooted Top Gear — Chris Evans and co tried to fit all the magic of TG into one season, and have failed spectacularly.”
The public would have probably given the new Top Gear a genuine opportunity to impress if Chris Evans had revamped the show with his own original inputs. In trying to fit himself into something someone else started, he was at a disadvantage from the start, since viewers will naturally draw comparisons to the original cast.
Will I Continue Watching It?
Probably – but only for the cars.
The reputation of the Top Gear brand enables producers to get the latest supercars into their studios, and the only other individual I can think of with that sort of influence is probably Jay Leno. Speaking of which, I am a follower of Leno’s Youtube series Jay Leno’s Garage, which offers something a little dialled down, but still with the newest supercars and vintage favourites.
And just in case you didn’t know, Clarkson & Co aren’t completely off the radar, and they will be back soon with a new show – The Grand Tour. Now, this is something fans of the original motley crew can look forward to!
You remember how Top Gear was supposed to wind down in 2001 before Jeremy Clarkson stepped in? Watch out BBC, because that may happen again – just that now, no one will come to its rescue.
This probably goes to show that a successful formula may not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Even for The Grand Tour, I am positive there will be stark differences, even though the trio will be up to their usual shenanigans.
Feature Image Credit: BBC