May 29th, 2016 is a date that will go down in history, yes it was the only day from a typically traditional UK bank holiday weekend during which the weather was decent. Also, a small car show that no one has ever heard of was broadcast on the BBC, this was coincided with the meltdown of the internet by many many keyboard warriors expressing their worthy viewpoints.
The reason for this meltdown you may ask, well unless you have been living in a cave you will be aware that Top Gear has a new presenter line-up due to the well-publicised departure of ‘punchy’ ape-man Jeremy Clarkson and his cohorts/best mates Richard ‘Hamster’ Hammond and James ‘Captain Slow’ May who now work in an Amazon warehouse somewhere in the middle of England.
Did the internet really melt down?
Well yes in a Top Gear kind of way, on Twitter the hashtag #TopGear2016 was rather popular during the Sunday evening broadcast with a fair amount of people stating they were switching off. Even the Daily Mail got in on the act rather quickly publishing an article entitled ‘Flop Gear’ which oddly enough shows a first published time and date of 29th May 2016 at 20:17 hrs, yes this was 43 minutes before the show had even ended.
Regardless of time travelling Daily Mail hacks aside, what was New New Top Gear actually like?
OK, I am going to be brutally honest here, it was OK. Yes, you read that I thought it was just OK. Now the visuals and production were as usual top notch, however in order to make this a complete review I am going to break it down by each film.
Dodge Viper ACR – Top Gun
This piece was beautifully shot, visually top quality. However, the Z06 Corvette got very little screen time along with driving skills of Sabine Schmitz both of which I felt deserved more screentime. The Top Gun section with laser guns was just lacking that something, it failed on the drama part for certain and was just lacking excitement throughout. I’d have rather seen the Top Gun part dropped and then a runway speed and handling battle between Evans & Schmitz to see who can make their Top Gun Instructor vomit first.
Aerial Atom Nomad
Again here, the visuals and the backdrop which were very high quality. The premise of the evil paps kind of fell flat a little bit as it felt a bit stale.
The driving of which Matt LeBlanc appeared to be doing most if not all of his own driving was very good, as we know from LeBlanc’s appearance on Old New Top Gear he can drive rather well and even in a car that he could barely get into with a manual gearbox and the wheel on the correct side he threw it around with aplomb.
The Robin Reliant Blackpool Challenge
Now this piece kind of felt very familiar, in fact, it felt like it had been done before many times. The drive to Blackpool was a mildly amusing section, however where were the challenges?. They simply got in the terrible 3-wheelers and drove to Blackpool while LeBlanc broke down a lot and got a tow truck to help him.
The second section of the classic Jeep speed test and tug of war just looked a bit pointless as it excluded the cars they had driven to Blackpool in the first place.
Then the final section, featuring a hill climb, whilst towing the previously unseen terrible 3 wheelers. Again just lacking any kind of drama or comedy value.
The whole piece altogether just seemed to lack direction, the presenters may as well have driven the 3 wheelers from Blackpool to the beach and started from there. Overall not good I’m afraid. In fact, I suspect under Old New Top Gear that they would have dumped or recycled small parts of this piece rather than show it.
Top Gear Studio Sections
Now I have a question for you, have you ever been out for dinner and the couple on the next table are clearly on a rather awkward first date. You know the where the chap decides they should split the bill at the end and where he had cheese board for dessert and she chose not have dessert because all she wanted to do was go home to get away from her tight-fisted date.
The previous line-up of Clarkson, Hammond & May were well known to be good friends in real life and prone to acting like children during the writing of the shows actual script if you can call it that, this combination was what made Old New Top Gear great.
However during the studio sections, Evans & LeBlanc were like a pair of strangers, the timing of the jokes was slightly off they just seemed like they have not spent very much time together at all. My suggestion would be a couple of holidays together where they can drink themselves silly and play practical jokes on each other which they can then bring to the show.
For me there was a complete lack of being comfortable with each other which I am hoping will improve as the show progresses through its maiden season post-relaunch.
My final gripe is the complete lack of any input from the other presenters on the show, no Harris or Reid which was for me disappointing. In fact, it would appear that Harris will not be making an appearance on the main show until episode 3 which is a travesty in itself.
The stars in the new reasonably price car
This section featured the rather accomplished professional Swearer Gordon Ramsey and Zombieland Actor Jesse Eisenberg, now Old New Top Gear did try the two guests at a time and then they stopped it as it didn’t really work.
Here was no exception, Evans kind of shouted questions at them and as a result never got to talk to either guest in any depth and instead asked the basic questions of the first car, best car etc.
Then the Top Gear track, what have they done for the love of god why?. The rally cross sections whilst inventive yes, a forward step, no just no. The Top Gear track was one of those things simply put, its not broken so don’t try to fix it or add a rallycross section in.
The fact is now they have gone and done it they now have to stick with it for at least this season, fingers crossed they erase it for next season. The change reminds me of a quote from Clarkson regarding the track where the idea of making the track wet for all fast lap times for the car tests was deemed a good idea, then it became apparent the sheer amount of water you would need to achieve this and the idea was quickly binned. That is what should have happened to the rallycross idea.
After switching to BBC3 which is now an online channel even though I thought it had always been online only?!? We were introduced to Reid and Harris whom I have to say were excellent. Reid was masterful in his presenting of the segment and Harris was just well Harris doing what he does best with his Aerial Atom Nomad segment where he was able to showcase his considerable driving skills.
At the very start of the show Sabine Schmitz made a very brief appearance more than likely due to racing commitments this past weekend, again underused but no big issue there as its only episode one.
Reid & Harris were like a couple of old mates sitting down talking about cars over a pint of beer, the flow between the two suggested they actually have talked to each other rather often and that they might actually be friends away from the camera.
ExtraGear just flowed nicely from start to finish, as to why it was so short I have no idea but BBC people if you are reading please give us longer ExtraGear as we deserve it.
So is Top Gear dead as we know it?
Nope not at all, whilst I have concerns about the show that essentially has rekindled or kept my love of cars going for the last decade or more, I am hopeful that it will improve.
People should remember the first season of Old New Top Gear, have you ever seen it on Dave, nope me neither because there was no James May and Clarkson, Hammond & Jason somebody were like 3 strangers on the first date for some parts.
Basically, I won’t lie, it wasn’t very good, yes it had its moments but once May was installed in the lineup things took off dramatically.
Whilst Top Gear fans will likely continue to melt the internet on a weekly basis while this maiden season continues I would ask you to take a step back and remember, yes Top Gear was fantastic at times but it also did some rather forgettable stuff as well. Perhaps giving the new presenting team a bit more time to find their feet with each other which I am certain will lead to a better quality of Top Gear. Lastly please please someone from the BBC send the entire team away on holiday to get to know each other a bit better.