One of BBC’s flagship shows has finally returned to our screens. Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc replace Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May as Top Gear presenters. The interest in how they’d do has been intense as the shadow of the three departing hosts looms large. At last, we have some answers.
The show pulls no punches in the opening segment. Evans and Sabine Schmitz (a German female driver) head to the actual Top Gun facility in America. Cue movie quotes galore, one of which Sabine gets comically incorrect, and two co-pilots. Their job is to control a laser guided targeted system attached to Evans’ and Schmitz’s cars.
It was Dodge Viper versus Corvette Z06, and while the concept was fun, it becomes clear early on this new Top Gear is going to be very scripted and staged. “Hit the brakes and fly right by,” the famous quote used to avoid a lock-on. Without proper planning, two supercars would have been written off.
That’s not to say the old show wasn’t planned but it always felt natural. That lack of organic feel becomes evident once Evans and LeBlanc share screen time together. At this moment there isn’t a spark between them. It may come over time, and there’s enough promise to suggest they deserve the chance.
This week’s theme was USA v UK and was decided by driving Robin Reliants to Blackpool, a series of challenges (standard dragging Ice Cream vans around stuff), climaxing in Jeeps hauling the Reliants to the top of a hill. The main thing to take away from it is how much Matt LeBlanc looks like Ross Kemp if you put him in a helmet and goggles.
Breaking up the challenge was LeBlanc in a buggy skipping around Morocco. Again, it was a decent feature but the stunt at the end was pure script and felt out of place.
The show has justification sticking to the tried and tested formula. Star in a Reasonably Priced Car got an upgrade. It’s now a Mini and there’s an off-road section in the track. Gordon Ramsey and Jesse Eisenberg the first to take the new layout. But sticking to the old way too closely leaves Top Gear feeling dated.
Evans has said the show isn’t in competition with Clarkson and Co.’s The Grand Tour, and with good reason. They will never go head-to-head and The Grand Tour’s £140m budget dwarfs BBC’s own production. But what it does is highlight how “New” Top Gear now feels old.
It doesn’t help when Evans is sat in cars trying to do a Clarkson impression. He has enough natural charisma and presenting experience to avoid this. The problem is worsened by LeBlanc’s blandness. It could be seen as a cynical move having the American on the show just to increase its export value.
Overall the show just got a lick of paint when it’s clear it needed the type of overhaul Matt LeBlanc’s Robin Reliant required.
Based on the Top Gun section and the potential, it gets 6/10.