It's been over a year since Jeremy Clarkson had the outburst that cost him his job on Top Gear, and since then a lot of people have wondered what the BBC was going to do with the franchise. Then they announced Chris Evans and a whole host of other as the new presenters, but things remained up in the air. Now we get to see what's what.
Naturally the new show has been hit by controversy, criticism, and fears that whatever happens it's doomed to fail - especially with competition from Amazon's The Grand Tour, featuring the three former presenters that made Old New Top Gear what it is. Now, though, we've seen the Beeb's new take on the show. So how is it?
Well if today is any indication, the show is just more of the same. Clearly the people behind the scenes realised what made Top Gear Top Gear, and didn't want to risk shaking up the formula of a programme that was the most watched TV show in the world.
One glaringly obvious difference is that New Top Gear only has two main presenters - Evans and LeBlanc. This is a bit odd, since the BBC announced a while back that a whole string of car people would be joining the show. Aside from the main two the only one we saw was Sabine Schmitz, and she was only in it for a few minutes during the episode's first segment.
Evans himself was a bit meh, if I'm honest. There were a couple of points where he was (very briefly) running round the studio like a hyperactive child, but for the most part it was like he was trying too hard to fill in Clarkson's shoes as lead presenter. It's not an easy job to take on, but I just wasn't feeling it. I wouldn't go to far as to say I disliked him being involved, just that I don't feel he offered anything major or unique to the programme
On the flipside bringing Matt LeBlanc on board is definitely a stroke of genius on the BBC's part. Not only was he a great addition to Clarkson's Top Gear on the few times he appeared, he helps bring the much-needed comedic silliness to the show. I can't speak for everyone, but part of the appeal of Clarkson's Top Gear was how silly it could be at times - otherwise you might as just be watching Fifth Gear. He also tackled the job of presenter much better than Evans did, and it was quite enjoyable to see him on screen. Honestly if Hammond and May hadn't left with Clarkson, LeBlanc would be have been a perfect fit to join the duo.
Unfortunately Evans and LeBlanc seem to be trying to enjoy each other's company (even if rumours say the opposite is true behind the scenes). The other three made a lot of effort in appearing as though they can't stand to be around each other, which is where some of the humour comes from. That meant that when LeBlanc's car kept breaking down during this week's challenge, Evans actually stopped to help him. Any long-time viewer will tell you that this is not the Top Gear way. That sort of friendliness is going to take some getting used to.
The Stig is here, as ever, with Evans cracking a joke about how they won custody over him. Custody obviously standing in for "The BBC own all the rights to the character". Nothing much to report on here. The Stig never had a very large role in the past, and his job hasn't changed in the slightest. LeBlanc was the one to make all the 'some say' jokes before introducing him, though, which he did a great job with. It's no surprise that the comedy actor has some great comedic timing.
The challenges have always been the best part of Top Gear, but I just wasn't feeling what was going on this week. For starters the first third of the 'main challenge' was boring and barely registered as a challenge. Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc driving up to Blackpool in flag-adorned Reliant Robins. That's all. No racing, no differing routes, just driving side-by-side until they got there. The only interesting thing about it was Chris Evans proclaiming that he looked like a dick sitting in a Union Jack Reliant in a similarly designed helmet. I'll rise above making any sarcastic comments here, and leave it for you lot to mention in the comments.
Things got a bit better when the two arrived to Blackpool, where they pitted two old-school 4x4s (one US, one British) against each other with speed tests, a 'triple drag-race' (a standard drag race, then dragging an ice cream van, followed by giving a lift to a drag queen), and ultimately cumulating with a race through the Lake District. Honestly we could've done with more of the Lake District race, rather than the rest, since that was the only part of this week's 'challenge' that was any good. Sadly it was over far too quickly and we barely got to see much of what happened.
This segment also let us see Evans complaining about his car being rear-ended by Matt's. At first I thought that he mustn't have never seen Top Gear before and didn't know how things were. Then he started cheating to try and win the race, so maybe he's more like Clarkson and co than everyone thought.
I actually preferred LeBlanc's solo challenge this week, as it had him in the desert driving Atom's new off-roader while attempting to escape some intrepid paparazzi without getting photographed. It had the perfect mix of driving and silliness. The same couldn't be said for the head-to-head challenge, or the very first segment that attempted to recreate a Top Gun-style aerial battle on the ground with supercars.
The new 'Star in the Reasonably Priced Car'
As we already heard, the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car has been ditched. Now we have two stars in a brand new rally car - a Mini to be precise. We all know that celebrities appear on this show to plug things, but the odd part is that the guests were plugging the other guests' endeavours. The format of this remains basically the same, though. Discussing what the guests are up to, what their car history is like, then timing them around the track.
The track has been changed up a bit, though, with some rally-like sections (including a jump and a 'water splash') tacked onto the track we've come to know over the past 15 years. Another change is that the guests are talking about their first and best cars, then having the audience vote on which is best. Evans made his attempt at bantering during this whole process, but I didn't really feel it worked and can't help but think LeBlanc would do a better job.
This week's two stars were Gordon Ramsey and
Mark Zuckerberg Jesse Eisenberg, which is a very odd combination.
As I mentioned earlier, the new Top Gear is very much the same as the last version we all know and love. The format is damn near identical, and the only major difference is the fact that it's no longer being presented by Clarkson, May, and Hammond. The studio has clearly had a serious refurbishment to mark the new era, but that's hardly important.
Really, whatever happened Chris Evans was doomed to be deemed a failure by some. Had he completely changed things up and had a totally different take on the show, people would have been bitching about how much New New Top Gear has changed. Given how similar this 'new' version of the show is, there are bound to be plenty of people complaining that it's sticking to the same old formula. You can't please everyone, sadly.
It might take some getting used to, but it's clear the BBC wasn't ignorant as to why people watched Top Gear in the first place. Whether the choice to stick to a familiar formula was a decision made by Evans and his team, or something that came from further up the ladder is unclear. Still it's familiar, and that's something the show desperately needed if it's going to survive. We'll just have to see just how much things diverge over the coming weeks and years.
Even if New Top Gear stays exactly the same as tonight's episode for the foreseeable future, it's not going to be the end of the world. Obviously things were going to change with the new presenters, but it could have been a lot, lot worse. They could have missed the point entirely and made just another car show. They didn't, which I'm grateful for. It's certainly not perfect, but it's not utterly awful either. It's just what it is.
But I will say offer this piece of advice to the BBC: Give the show to Matt LeBlanc to run, rather than Chris Evans. Just going off a single episode LeBlanc showed just how competent he could be presenting a factual TV programme, despite the fact he doesn't appear to have done anything like it before. Evans offered a pretty meh performance, which won't help in the long run. Let him stick to hosting his breakfast show, since he's obviously very good at that. He does know about cars, though, so I figure he's certainly not a bad person to have around. Just keep him on the sidelines.
Let us know what you thought of tonight's episode, though. Did you like the episode and have high hopes for the future? Did you think it was a steaming pile of garbage that deserves to be cancelled and forgotten about? Or are you somewhere in between? let us know in the comments.