The new Top Gear premiered last night in the USA amid much fanfare (although you could’ve watched it earlier here) and the new star-studded show was supposed to show the world that the show didn’t need Clarkson, Hammond and May to be successful.
After (barely) getting through the first episode, though, that so far seems unlikely.
When the new Top Gear lineup was released, it consisted of five presenters from three countries. The first episode, however, was clearly focused on two: host Chris Evans and former Friends star Matt LeBlanc. They were the ones in the studio and they were the focus of the main US vs UK feature.
I have to say something about Evans. His shrill, nasally voice is hard on the ears, a sharp contrast to Jeremy Clarkson’s smooth baritone. Every time he opened his mouth I wanted to slap it closed. Combine that with his crap-eating grin and the way he jumped around the set like a bundle of nerves and it made the in-studio segments nearly unwatchable.
One of the best parts of the last Top Gear was the banter between the hosts. We all knew it was mostly scripted, but they pulled it off. There was genuine chemistry between the three presenters. That chemistry was sorely lacking between Evans and LeBlanc.
The only bright spot of the program was LeBlanc’s test of the Ariel Nomad. As a veteran comedic actor, the spot put him back in his comfort zone – pre-taped segments with scripted lines. He’s also a pretty good driver.
And what of the other presenters? Sabine Schmitz showed up during the Viper vs. Corvette segment, but she was limited to uncomfortably reciting quotes from Top Gun and letting herself get beaten by Evans. Chris Harris, Rory Reid and Eddie Jordan were conspicuously absent.
Then there’s the star in a reasonably priced car, which is now the star in a rallycross car. Evans had two guests, Gordon Ramsey and Jesse Eisenberg. Ramsey was a smug as ever and Eisenberg was surprisingly charming, but Evans was a terrible interviewer. Clarkson somehow managed to make the large hangar intimate when talking with his guests, but Evans could not. Add in the fact that the set is even bigger than before, making the audio for all in-studio segments have too much echo, and it was nowhere near what the previous segment was.
The US vs UK challenge was also anti-climactic. It started with LeBlanc and Evans in topless Reliants, a nod to the previous version of Top Gear, and then there were a few Jeep vs. Land Rover challenges that were mildly entertaining, but it was a yawner at best.
The biggest problem with the show was that it was that they were taking parts of the old show and trying to reuse them as if they were a Top Gear trademark instead of a Clarkson-Hammond-May trademark. They took the show that Clarkson and producer Andy Wilman built and did a half-assed version of it. It’s like a bad cover band. Plus they blatantly made fun of Clarkson during a few of the in-studio moments, which is unfair as they’re basically copying his formula.
Even the production was lacking. It was missing the grandeur of the previous generation and the choice of background music was lacking inspiration.
In the end, the first episode of the new Top Gear fell far short of what was promised. The BBC insisted that Clarkson was not Top Gear, but unless things change drastically during the season, all they are proving is that he is, was and will always be Top Gear.
At least we have The Grand Tour coming up in the fall.
Check out this TFLtruck video pitting two Jeep Wranglers against a Jeep Renegade as they try to climb the Cliffhanger: