As a motoring journalist and all round car nut, I have been asked what I think about the new Top Gear over the last two days more than I have ever been asked about any supercar I was driving. It seems people are more interested in what the BBC have done with the show since those chaps on the Amazon payroll have left than they are about even the EU referendum… Although that has crushing implications for Britons’ future in the global economy and more, it also shows just how much everyone loves and cares about Top Gear.
What has It ever done for us?
Well, Top Gear has done a huge amount for us. For those old enough to remember, it was once the only place you could actually see a car being tested on the TV. This was before it was funny, and crazy and all about smoking tyres. However, as good as it was, it was a bit boring for those people who are not fully fledged car nerds like myself.
But on top of being a decent consumer programme and bringing solid reviews to the British car buying public, it also brought a love of cars to millions who never knew they could be capable of it. Once the programme changed format it suddenly became a show families could watch together – and it still satisfied the car nut at the same time. It also brought us laughs, goose bumps, sinful levels of envy and a whole gamete of other emotions that should never really come from a car show. We all fell in love with old bangers on trips across god knows where, and wished with all our hearts that a dodgy old Land Cruiser would just make that last mile… the list goes on. So, what has Top Gear done for us… what hasn’t it done?!
The New Show
I will keep this fairly brief because there are enough in-depth reviews knocking around the internet to last anyone a life time. They all pretty much say the same, but don’t seem to cover a few big issues. Yes the format should have been changed, yes the risk level involved in this series is so low it makes it dull and yes they should have had Chris Harris et al on the main show. But there are more fundamental issues at play here.
Ultimately, Chris Evans doesn’t know much about cars. “What???” I hear you cry, “he has one of the most expensive Ferraris in the world, and drives around doing charity car events.” Well, so what? that doesn’t mean he knows the difference between opposite lock and the wheel camber now does it? He walks the walk, goes to all the shows… but it became very clear in the first 15 minutes of the show that he loves cars and knows sod all about them.
Example 1: The Dodge Viper review.
Well, for a start it wasn’t a review. It was so far from a review as to be essentially a short advert that told you nothing – and so even failed at being that. Shouted ramblings and overly articulated similes do not count as a review; where was the technical tip bits, the years of knowledge seeping through wry smiles and tyre smoke? It wasn’t there. Then to top it all off he proceeded to attempt to sound knowledgeable about a rear wing providing downforce. Really? I thought it was for cooking an egg on… It was like a Blue Peter episode for cretins, only less stimulating – and without much preparation from earlier. Even my mum knows what a spoiler does and this weak attempt at sounding like an expert only highlighted the fact Mr Evans is not. At all.
Example 2 Still on the Viper.
The Stig does a lap, that’s fine, we like the lap, we can compare times and cars like Top Trumps. What we don’t like is a commentary from someone who can’t drive and talk at the same time. More ramblings, and then as the car goes around Hammerhead we get silence. Utter silence. What follows this awkward gawking moment of ineptitude? More ineptitude. Chris sees the car lose traction and all he can do is shout something about it doing a skid! A skid? Did it shit its pants Chris? Is it a 10 year old on a BMX? No, it’s a bloody muscle car and what you actually saw was a touch of oversteer.
This may seem petty, but it is not. It is indicative of a much larger issue. The original cast would all know it was oversteer and would have called it as such. That level of knowledge ran through the old show like grain in a fine oak table, it was not pervasive but it was brilliant in its subtlety. Now it is crushingly painful in its absence.
And So We Go On
My predication about the show before it aired would be that Evans would get a Twitter bashing (Sorry, Captain America!) and we would all chuckle a bit about Matt Leblanc. I think I did pretty well there. Matt was actually pretty funny and certainly brought some much needed class to the proceedings, but there were still many issues. Firstly, and I do not want to sound like Nigel Farage here, but could we not find a British male or Female to take the stage at all? There must literally be hundreds of actors and ex-racing drivers this country has produced of both sexes that could handle the job. Instead, we have a much loved – but once again ultimately and automotively cretinised host.
During the Nomad review slash mucking about, he made the same mistake as Evans. He went to try and say something knowledgeable about the suspension and ended up saying… nothing at all. He mentioned the car has the same suspension as rally cars, OK and? What do you mean Matt? The same travel, same stiffness, rebound, shocks, strength… stickers? What??? He then goes on to almost admit he knows nothing about the statement by repeating the word suspend a few times – which made me laugh and weep at the same time. The old presenters would have given you something to measure this statement by; perhaps saying something about how much travel a family car has compared to this, or some mind boggling fact about absorbing the impact from a missile, but still, something. All I now know is that the suspension is probably good, but I have no idea how good, what technology was involved or anything else.
So there were a few specific moments that really showed up that the script writers, the presenters and the top brass don’t really give a toss about cars. But there were other, more subtle problems with it too I noticed. I mentioned Blue Peter before, and for good reason. When the first episode finally finished I was left feeling patronised and bored. The whole show felt like a skit from the eye-rottingly awful One Show, but one that was purposefully produced to reach out to kids. Chris Evans just shouted “no” a lot during the challenge, but I didn’t believe it for a second. He shouted about a car being fast or that he had lost Christine Schmidt in the chase… but it felt so fake as to render it utterly flaccid.
Hang on… there’s more
The challenge! Oh the challenge! What a waste of time that was. What happened to having a budget and going off to buy a car that reflected the character of the presenter and then putting those characters through arduous trials with emotion and passion? What we got was a pre packaged microwave roast dinner, complete with predictably dull Reliant Robin meat – and results that felt like liquified carrot. Of course, old Top Gear was scripted as hell… but at least it was done with feeling, this was just terminally dull and the fact that they didn’t even pretend to have chosen or care about the cars means I didn’t care what happened. They didn’t even really talk about each car… remember when the boys used to almost review the bangers they purchased? That stuff was funny, and what captured mine and other similar user’s attention.
Many people will say I should stop comparing it to the old show and that it is, in fact, a new show. I would actually agree, if it wasn’t for the fact that they completely copied the old show, only utterly terribly. The new bits like the rally cross are nice touches – but dropping the news in favour of celeb ‘banter’ is soul destroying, only made worse by the fact Evans is clearly a better chat show host than a car presenter… thus cementing the reason for his employment; one that did not involve the stars of the show: the cars.
In conclusion I will carry on watching it as I think it is only fair, and I will watch anything with a car in it to a point. That point may be hit on Sunday but we shall see. The viewing figures being banded around as a celebration are a result of curiosity and rubber necking, the next episode will be the same and then it will drop off unless they have a lot of tricks up their collective sleeves. We may not see Evans even make it to the next series, but then again X Factor continues to chug its fat Cowell-pocket-feeding face ever year, churning out fake singers for fake audiences… so there must be some pretty stupid people out there watching just about anything.
My thoughts on episode 2 will be on the way soon. You never know… I might really like that one.