We came in with low expectations....
No matter how good the new show could be, it would never be the show that we once loved. Like John Stewart leaving The Daily Show, we knew the that Trevor Noah was not John Stewart, but the potential existed that he could forge his own path. This is the similar feeling when tuning in to the new Top Gear with two new hosts, Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc and presenters Chris Harris, Eddie Jordan, Rory Reid and Sabine Schmitz. You know its not going to be the Top Gear of old, but maybe with enough prayer and positive thought it can stand on its own. We maintained that hope, even after the 5th or 6th forced metaphor as host Chris Evans drove a fearsome Viper ACR, but alas, hope turned to melancholy and then to despair as it was clear that lightning wasn't striking twice.
The news isn't all bad. Without a doubt, Top Gear maintains its reputation for amazing video production and editing. The segment that pitched the Viper ACR against the Corvette Z06 was filmed so perfectly that those of us who've watched for years knew those behind the camera and scenes still had "it." The driving footage of LeBlanc hooning in the new Ariel Nomad wasn't half bad either. Another positive is that the Star in a Reasonable Priced car segment has been tweaked to put the stars in a rally set up Mini Cooper on the Top Gear track, which now has a rally cross section! However, while this segment has added excitement with a new car and track layout it breaks with tradition that some may may find disheartening.
The celebrity guests, Gordon Ramsay and Jesse Eisenberg, were actually quite a bit funnier than the paid host. Chris Evans' sustained attempts to overcome his lack of charisma with constant shouting became quite a distraction. This was in very sharp contrast to co-host Matt LeBlanc who, compared to Evans, comes across as, well, near dead. LeBlanc seems that he may be more Joey from Friends than super cool car guy who co-hosts Top Gear. Having said this, a lot could be achieved if the producers dialed Evans down to 3 and LeBlanc to 7. A potential draw to the new Top Gear is the "Ring Queen" Sabine Schmitz, a proper take no prisoners German racing driver. She achieved fame with many fans over the last 10-15 years as the driver of the BMW "ring taxi" around the Nurburgring (Google "Ring Taxi" as you will not be disappointed). She has won the 24 Hours of Nurburgring twice and races in the FIA World Touring Car Championship. Sabine drove the Corvette in the Viper vs Corvette battle and had some brief moments to show her ruthless skill but her segment was far to short. She would appear in the after show, Extra Gear (more below) where she reveals her personal Porsche race car and takes out Extra Gear co-host Rory Reid. Unfortunatly, Reid seemed like he had never even seen a car before, let alone ask the right questions of a true racer. Reid got the job after working as Editor-in-Chief of a gadget website, Recombu.
The real stake through the heart moment was the road trip segment that had Evans and LeBlanc drive Reliant Rialtos to the City of Blackpool. Where segments like this, in subpar cars, often resulted in some of the funniest segments on the old Top Gear, this time around it was painful and seemed to drone on. This pointless exercise, while maintaining action, did little to hide how scripted it really was. Everyone knows that the previous Top Gear did many scripted challenges but the new Top Gear doesn’t hide it well. These two shouldn't be forced to have instant rapport. It might have been a better idea to let the two figure each other out. We've seen Evans and LeBlanc in their respective elements before, so we know that better is possible.
So, should you tune in for the next installment of the new Top Gear? Well, frankly one of us is not inclined. There are enough old episodes to find on Netflix and BBC America to get a fix until the new Clarkson, Hammond May venture launches (if it ever does). The other half of this fine publication says, "what the hell." It might get better, if only marginally, and who could hate classic Top Gear car tests and more importantly, who couldn't use a little more Stig in their life? All in all not a great start, but again, we didn't have our hopes up.
Top Gear Extra Gear
Following Top Gear is Extra Gear which is a behind the scenes and extended take of some for the segments in the main Top Gear. This is the segment where Chris Harris makes his appearance. While it’s still tortuous to watch, Chris Harris shows that he should be the host of Top Gear. As he hoons the Ariel Nomad on the Top Gear test track he calmly does play by play while wrestling the Nomad around the track all without shouting forced metaphors. Harris may be the star of the show but sadly he is buried at the end. Overall though, they could drop it as a supplement and incorporate it into the show. It was an awkward appendage to a show that already seemed painfully long.
And on that bombshell....