I was definitely a late-comer to the “new” Top Gear, which starred Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May.
I use new in quotations since there was a previous version of the show Top Gear that dates all the way back to the late 70’s (1977, in fact) and was more of an “car magazine on TV”. Of course, the “new” Top Gear adopted a new format in 2002 – best summarized by Jeremy Clarkson himself: “ambitious, but rubbish”.
I started watching Top Gear probably sometime around 2010 or so, and was pretty quickly hooked. While I do enjoy cars, it really is the chemistry between the three hosts that makes the show worth watching. If you’ve never seen an episode, I would at least watch the famous Reliant Robin trip by Jeremy Clarkson.
That video should give you an idea of the overall level of seriousness and gravitas which permeates the show. If you’re looking for other episodes to whet your appetite, you can’t go wrong with the specials, most notably the Polar Special (dogsled vs. Toyota truck), the Vietnam Special (from the capital of South Vietnam to the capital of North Vietnam – on motorcycles), and the Africa Special (find the source of the Nile River in station wagons).
“New” New Top Gear
All this is to say that I was slightly worried about this newest series of Top Gear (which will be new “new” Top Gear, or NNTG for short), which is the first series since Jeremy Clarkson was sacked and both Richard Hammond and James May voluntarily left the show. There had been many rumblings about the new “main” host, Chris Evans, not being up to the job, but I wanted to watch the newest episodes for myself, before forming too much of an opinion on it.
Well, so far I’ve seen the two (to date) released episodes. And now I certainly have an opinion.
Chris Evans – who is (apparently) a well-known radio DJ on BBC Radio 1 and a TV presenter on BBC 1, was a bit of a mess in both. While he is well-known as a car lover and he is a presenter on TV and radio, apparently these traits alone do not make a successful NNTG host. Not only was he more than a little shrill and shouty, but he really seemed like he was trying too hard. During his segment (driving a Dodge Viper around an airfield against a Corvette), he seemed more like he was reciting numbers from a sales brochure than describe the experience and feeling of the car.
His Twitter posts after the first episode kind of reinforce his insecurity and sense of trying to hard to prove himself:
The new Top Gear is a hit. OFFICIALLY. 23 % audience share. 12% MORE than the opening episode of the last series. These are the FACTS.
— Chris Evans (@achrisevans) May 30, 2016
Top Gear audience grew throughout the hour. FACT. Won its slot. FACT. Still number one on i Player. FACT. These are THE FACTS folks.
— Chris Evans (@achrisevans) May 30, 2016
I can’t help but read these tweets in his voice. Ugh.
Meanwhile, Matt LeBlanc, who doesn’t really have much presenter experience (to my knowledge, at least), was pretty entertaining. While he was a bit lower energy in both the studio segments on in his film, he was infinitely more interesting to listen to he was driving the Ariel Nomad around the desert.
NNTG Episode 2 – Could Be Worse
Chris Evans is still annoyingly shrill and shouty (and even introduces the episode by saying he’ll be “more shouty” – ugh), but he’s toned it down a bit in the in-studio segments, which was good. The film voice-over and dialogue is still a bit over-the-top, but they were recorded months ago and there isn’t much they can change now, probably.
Also, he still sounds like he’s reading off a spec sheet rather than describing the feeling and sensation of driving incredible cars. You can look up 0-to-60 times or horsepower figures easily enough – that’s not good to watch or engaging. This is one of the things that was so great about the Clarkson, Hammond, and May trio – they were all very good at describing the sensations of driving the cars, and I think this may be Evans’ biggest weakness (aside from the shouting) as the “main” NNTG presenter.
Even though he was the highlight of the previous episode, LeBlanc also improved his in-studio energy and he seemed to get along better with Chris (I don’t know if that’s because of an adjustment by Evans or LeBlanc, though). If I was going to nitpick one thing about LeBlanc, though, his Stig facts (“Some say…”) still seem a bit off – they don’t quite have the gravitas that Clarkson delivered them with.
I think, if possible, the interview segment has gotten worse in each of these newer episodes. Having multiple interviewees at once (and asking one interviewee to describe what another is “up to”) just seems…weird. However, the highlight of the second episode – the South Africa film – was actually quite reminiscent of the old “new” Top Gear. They still don’t leave behind anyone with car trouble, but maybe this will be an era of Top Gear with camaraderie.
Overall, not a bad improvement for 7 days!