The rebooted Top Gear premiered in the U.S. Monday and the reviews, so far, have not looked good – hence the cheesy Friends reference.
Let me start by saying I, like millions of others around the world, was a huge fan of Top Gear when Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May were the hosts. For over 20 seasons, Clarkson, Hammond, and May managed to tap into the child-like part of our imaginations to provide viewers with television that they didn’t even know they wanted (i.e., car soccer).
Additionally, the trio’s on-screen chemistry is something that cannot be manufactured, which, in my opinion, is the main reason the show was so successful for so long. Every week when viewers turned on their TV to watch ‘three blokes on a car show,’ they saw back and forth banter that every group of friends engages in once they’ve known each other for too long.
This leads me to the reason I was hesitant to watch the Top Gear reboot. I was afraid that because Top Gear was so successful, the BBC would try to replicate that success by trying to replicate the show itself. However, when Chris Evans was still the only host that had been announced, I saw a quote that put that fear to rest. Evans said something along the lines of, “Why try to do exactly what they [Clarkson, Hammond, and May] did, if they’ve already done it so well?”
Evans’ mindset combined with the signing of Matt LeBlanc, Sebine Schmitz, Chris Harris, and Eddie Jordan, made me think that this new take on the world’s most popular motoring show might be all right after all. Unfortunately I was wrong.
To start, Evans either forgot that he shouldn’t copy Clarkson, or he just thought we wouldn’t notice that he was trying to. Every voice-over he did, whether it was for the intro or his review of the Viper SRT, was done with one of the worst imitation of Clarkson’s voice that I have ever heard.
The second, and biggest problem I had with the show was the in-studio dialogue. Evans and LeBlanc tried to do exactly what I said was impossible by attempting to manufacture chemistry. Although it is filmed in front of a live studio audience, the magic of Top Gear is not found in the script like most shows. Instead, the magic of Top Gear is the presenters’ ability to transition seamlessly from scripted to improvised material without any of the jokes feeling forced.
Another problem with the show had to do with the changes that were actually made. There were a number of tweaks to the format of the show that seemed very gimmicky and didn’t actually add any value to the program, such as having a larger audience, a more elaborate set, and having the celebrity guests introduce each other by reading off queue cards. Additionally, getting rid of the news segment of the show and replacing it with Extra Gear, a half-hour program that airs after each episode, was a mistake. It is hard enough to retain an audience for a full hour, which means that many people will have missed out on additional content and, in this case, Chris Harris and Rory Reid’s first appearances on the program.
However, there is one change that was made to the show, which almost everybody agrees was smart. The segment previously known as ‘Star In A Reasonably Priced Car’ is now ‘Star In A Rallycross Car.’ To ensure that each lap is as entertaining as possible, the rallycross track that the stars will drive on was designed with the help of World Rallycross driver, Liam Doran. The new track incorporates several corners from the original Top Gear Test Track, as well as two gravel sections that present challenges such as handbrake turns, a splash pool, and even a jump.
What’s so frustrating about the fact that the new Top Gear is trying to be so similar to the old Top Gear is that the BBC can and has done better. There are Top Gear spinoffs all over the world, including here in the U.S., which managed to reimagine a show based on the original but with their own unique style. When speaking about the American version of Top Gear, May even said, “They’ve been forced to take our format…but I think they’ve got the potential to steer it off. While it will still be Top Gear, and recognizably the Top Gear format, it will be an American Top Gear and it will be like an American TV show.”
Hopefully, with more time, this new group of presenters will also be able to adapt the show to be more representative of their personalities. But until then, the future does not look too bright for this new Top Gear.