Are there reasons to be cheerful about Chris Evans’ revamped Top Gear?
Viewers have switched off in droves with reported tensions between Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc. As the first series draws to a close, are there any positives to take from its new look?
The new Top Gear. It hasn't gone all that well, has it? Less a sleek new reimagining of a well-loved TV favourite than an ageing jalopy with the wheels falling off.
Rumours of on-set tensions between its star presenters Matt LeBlanc and Chris Evans, declining overnight ratings, a hostile response from many of the show’s fans and a sense that they don’t really know what they are doing have dogged proceedings.
Are they trying to ape the show which was such a hit under Messrs Clarkson, May and Hammond? Or make a new one?
Where’s the wit, the humour, the sense of camaraderie and the chemistry? Why do the presenters just seem to go off and make their own random individual films about various cars, linked together in the studio but never quite gelling or making sense? Clarkson, Hammond and May worked as a trio and they pulled it off (a remark they wouldn’t have let go by without a childish snigger). Little wonder one fan quipped that the revamped show was “so boring it barely exists”.
Viewers have been voting with their remote controls. There was a small ratings rally last week but its numbers were shrinking up until then, with the lowest overnight figure of 2.37 million causing consternation at the Beeb.
So here’s our attempt to try to salvage some good news and find some positive things to say about the revamped series.
Matt LeBlanc has not been a total write-off
The former Friends star was a fairly unknown quantity as a presenter before the series started. As one production source told me before the curtain came up: “The BBC think they are getting Joey from Friends. When actually they are getting Matt LeBlanc.” But actually Matt LeBlanc hasn’t been too bad. OK, his staged banter with Evans has been a bit painful to watch at times, and it doesn’t exactly scream two men who really get on. But his wordplay has been funny and he shows he does at least know a thing or two about cars. Constant jokes of him being a fish-out-of-water-American aside, he seems to get the show’s vibe and ethos with his raised eyebrows and sarkiness. So it’s a bit of a shame that he may not return for series two (the BBC can’t yet confirm if he will).
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Take a bow Sabine, Rory and Chris….
Perhaps the best thing about the show has been the emergence of the so-called unknown presenters. Before the series started I know there were a lot of concerns within the production and at the BBC about the size of the team. Alongside Evans were a host of others – Sabine Schmitz, Eddie Jordan, Rory Reid and Chris Harris. Not only did Evans have to launch the new show, he had to familiarise fans with a large cast of relative unknowns. Well, worry not, they have mainly shone in the roles, with Schmitz, Reid and Harris in particular winning plaudits for their assured presenting style and confidence (Schmitz even caused a fearless US navy pilot to throw up). They know their onions about the cars which gives them a confidence and winning charm. Could Harris, Schmitz and Reid be the new Three Amigos?
It still looks pretty good
The BBC have certainly thrown a lot of money at the series (little wonder, this is a show which generates about £50m for BBC Worldwide, so they can afford to and they need to). The show’s cinematic look and feel is intact from the old era too and particular praise should go to the location shoots in Morocco and Nevada – all bright colouring and smart camera work which most viewers enjoyed.
At least they avoided a total car crash...
Rebooting the show was always going to be a tough ask. Change too much and people miss the old show. Follow the Clarkson era completely and you get accused of being a second-rate copy. It was basically a no-win situation, so not tanking completely should be considered a success of sorts.
It whets the appetite for Clarkson, Hammond and May's new show
Many Top Gear fans imagine this is how Jeremy Clarkson reacted to the performance of the show without him...
They may have a point. Because all is not lost for those fans who miss the Three Amigos. Clarkson, Hammond and May will be on Amazon Prime in the autumn, launching their new show The Grand Tour. And they won't have to tell anyone how many people watch it...
The final episode of the latest series of Top Gear is on BBC2 tonight at 8pm