Well the first official episode of Chris Evans’s iteration of Top Gear has finally hit the airwaves, and there is a lot to say about what happened. I can guarantee that every other automotive write in the world is currently banging out a long and contrived explanation of every moment from the new show. I’m going to skip the fluff and just give a solid breakdown of things I liked, things I didn’t, and things that just didn’t work. Let’s dive in.
Chris Evans’s work in radio transferred over relatively well to the studio segments of Top Gear. He felt natural in front of a crowd, and while some of the jokes were a little meh, he managed to keep the show moving and he is a good fit for running the show in front of the live crowd. That said, he does too often fall into a Clarkson imitation that doesn’t work well.
Matt LeBlanc’s segment about the Ariel Nomad proves that he has the talent, face, and wit to make a great Top Gear presenter. Despite the rather dumb premise of his paparazzi escape challenge, LeBlanc handled the in-car segment with aplomb. He has that perfect mix of charm on the camera, with sharp commentary that feels poignant and entertaining. He was made to do these in-car reviews.
The Star In A Reasonably Priced Car has been revamped and now features a new Rallycross circuit and new rallycross Mini Cooper, and it’s the only thing in the show that felt new or fresh. Could have easily been the best part of the program if LeBlanc didn’t do so well in the Ariel Nomad.
Visually, they show looks just as good as it ever has. Wonderful scenery, dynamic and interesting camera shots, and lots of epic slow motion. The camera team they have cobbled together has the skills needed to keep that signature Top Gear style, thankfully.
This is going to be a flip from the last segment. In the studio LeBlanc is awful, and Chris Evans has zero presenting skill while behind the wheel of a moving machine.
LeBlanc maybe a successful actor with decades of experience, but a live audience introduces some serious challenges to even the most serious on-screen personalities. Every line was delivered in a measured monotone voice with as much enthusiasm as a proctologist seeing his 19th patient of the day. The wonderfully fun character that was present in the Ariel film was nowhere to be found in the studio.
Then we move to Evans in the car, which is not a great experience. Just as LeBlanc was great in-car, but stuffy and uncertain in the studio, Evans brings the opposite. In his piece about the Viper and the Z06, Evans feels like he is reading a set of lines directly from some cue cards, as if they strapped a poor intern to the hood of Dodge’s beast. He fails to convey any actual feelings about the car, but instead just focuses on specs and a bit of hyperbole.
Then we hit the audio. While the visuals are incredible, the audio in this episode is abysmal. There is echo in the studio segments, the volume of music and presenter alike fluctuates almost constantly through the films, and the actual music choice is almost hilariously bad. Old Top Gear’s music selection was so perfect that I have seen huge forums dedicated just to the music in each episode. This time it feels like a YouTube video filled with generic license free music that has no rhyme or reason in regards to the on-screen action.
If you are wondering why we are only talking about two of the many hosts that have been announced for Top Gear, it’s because that is all the show featured. Aside from a short cameo from Sabine Schmitz in the Viper film (that reiterates how great she can be as a presenter) the show focused on just LeBlanc and Evans, and that made things boring. Almost the entire show consisted of a US vs UK contest that lasted way too long, featured very little action, and was overall a boring and lackluster attempt at humor and entertainment.
So what happens now?
It is very obvious from the first few moments that Evans and team is being crushed slightly by the huge weight of the Top Gear behemoth hanging over them, but there is hope. There were some serious bright spots in the program that proved the team has the skills to make this work, I think they just need time. There was far too much that felt forced in an attempt to fit an old mold. This is a new show, with a new team, and new ideas. They just need some time to get comfortable.
I truly feel like there is enough promise there that the new iteration of Top Gear could become every bit as entertaining as Top Gear past. Everyone just needs to learn to be their own person making their own show. Slough off the past baggage and get to work.
Photos from BBC/TopGear.com