So we all had low expectations. No one really expected New, new Top Gear to be as good as the old new Top Gear. But, considering that the first show in the new season was likely to start with some of the best bits from the series we were expecting a certain level of quality. Something that was at least as good as some of the more mediocre moments from the previous incarnation. I was actually really pleased when it was announced that Chris Evans was to take over as I really rate him as a broadcaster. However, I guess my deepest fear was that with his involvement Top Gear would end up as The One Show with cars. The reality was, in fact, much worse than that. It was TFI Friday with cars instead.
So, the one word that sums up the most obvious problem with the show? Well I’m afraid ‘Hype’ is that word. We all expected a few gaps to be showing here and there as the new format gradually tightens up in the weeks and months to come. Unfortunately, Chris Evans’ policy seems to be to try and cover those gaps with the aforementioned ‘hype’ and hope that we’re also so excited that we don’t notice. Whilst that might work for ‘the weekend starts here’ audience of TFI it really, really grates with the ‘going back to work tomorrow and want something good to talk about at tea break’ audience of Top Gear. (Yeah, yeah, it’s a bank holiday tomorrow, I know…but you know what I mean.)
In fact, in many ways, Top Gear has always been a welcome antidote to ‘hype’. Much of the charm of the show is based around the notion of an industry which is full of ‘lifestyle’ marketing and ‘concept’ cars being brought down to earth by three middle-aged men who bumble through life like the rest of us. You’d have thought that a new team of middle-aged men might have tried to keep hold of that charm.
However, the programme’s new attitude to ‘hype’ was obvious right from the opening credits with the audience cheering almost anything that moved. This included, cheering Matt LeBlanc walking through a door, cheering Chris Evans cheering Matt Le Blanc. The audience was even cheering that fact that they were the audience. This didn’t change much throughout the entire show either. Various commentators criticised Clarkson and Co. for focussing on the presenters rather than the cars. My worry for this era of the programme is that it might be in danger of focussing too much on the studio audience (many of whom are placed on TFI style balconies just so we can be sure that they are all enjoying themselves).
At times, the show just felt awkward. The slightly cringe-worthy references to the previous incarnation including Chris’s dreadful take-off of Clarkson’s opening credits voiceover and shoehorned-in jokes about the show’s new catering arrangements being the most obvious tumble-weed moments.
But the biggest problem with the show was the production itself. Most people outside of the media world might not have noticed these sort of things. Or rather they would have known something was wrong, but not been quite sure what was wrong. The more media savvy will probably be able to quantify this more specifically so if you watched the programme and thought, “that was a bit weird but I’m not sure why”, let me give you some suggestions.
Firstly, there was the technical side. Top Gear has prided itself on picking up some of the best camera operators and editors in the business over the years of its existence. Granted there was nothing particularly bad in this department, but you did wonder whether the most talented of the old production team had jumped ship to Amazon with Clarkson, Hammond and May.
Plus, format wise, there were some big issues; basic scripting, linking and programme flow being the main culprits. Watchers of the old Top Gear will remember that every item had a perfectly crafted intro, linking each piece into a scenario such as an item in the news, and argument in the production team or something that one of the hosts had experienced this week. In this new incarnation, the links were just random (such as the bizarre appearance of the entire staff of Chris’s local curry house) or non-existent (still wondering why the Robin Rialto’s were in the programme at all.) Plus, at times the commentary over the various video pieces from both Chris and Matt sounded like people who were just out of their depth.
Was it all bad? Well no, the Dodge Viper review was fine and the duel with the Corvette was quite entertaining viewing. And, let’s face it, parts of Top Gear were in need of a shake up. For example, the interview section of Stars In A Reasonably Priced Car was probably the weakest part of the show. The changes on the new version will (if someone can vacuum out all the aforementioned surplus hype) probably add a much needed new dimension to the programme. Plus, the change in format to the track itself is a much better way of moving things on than simply changing the reasonably priced car every two or three years.
Furthermore, in mitigation, we have to remember that the first reincarnation of new Top Gear took two or three years to really settle in. Including one season of Jason Dawe (remember him?) who was ultimately sidelined in favour of James May who, himself, looked like a nervous ‘best man’ for the best part of two years. And, as I mentioned above, whilst none of the Top Gear faithful wanted a format ‘revolution’ it was clear that there needed to be an element of ‘evolution’ for the programme to thrive long-term.
Nevertheless, unless the Evans era makes some changes rather quickly, the result will not be ‘evolution’ or even ‘revolution’ but rather ‘revulsion’.