Saturday, August 24th, 2019

Top Gear has become Top Dud


The BBC has done the impossible and made watching a Ferrari race around a track boring. They’ve made Hollywood star interviews less interesting than C-span. They actually made the American version of Top Gear more interesting by comparison.

After three episodes, it’s clear the BBC version of Top Gear (sans Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond), is just not as entertaining as Top Gear in years past. In fact, it’s struggling to produce any entertainment value whatsoever.

Matt LeBlanc is entertaining enough and certainly can follow a script, but how many expatriate American storylines will the BBC write for him? LeBlanc is on the show because he actually knows about cars, something he proved as the fastest “celebrity in a reasonably priced car.”

top gearOh, yes, how could that segment get more screwed up? They’ve done away with celebrities driving a modest car and put them in a rallycross Mini Cooper so they can drive through a mud puddle. Apparently saying “Gambon Corner” is forbidden.

That would be somewhat forgivable if the celebrity interviews were somewhat interesting. Chris Evans’ limited interviewing skills are reduced to a highly scripted artificial competition between two celebrity guests to see who had the lamest car. Gone is the revelatory moments regarding a movie star’s first time driving a manual transmission or picked up their first girlfriend in a beat-up station wagon.

Were celebrities complaining to Top Gear’s producers that Clarkson’s interviews were too tough? Did the audience think Clarkson was too tough on Gordon Ramsay and Simon Cowell?

But the spontaneity isn’t just lost from the guest interview segment. The main reason Top Gear was so successful is that whatever Clarkson, Hammond and May did to each other on camera, you believed they would do if the cameras were turned off. They were also such an odd blend of personalities that the tension between the three contributed to the audience anticipation of what was going to happen next.

Instead any Evans and LeBlanc hijinks appear to be highly scripted and, even more annoying, friendly. Evans even asked LeBlanc’s permission before bumping his car. When May got bumped on a mountain road in South America, he got out of his car with a machete.

It’s also unlikely that the great politically incorrect moments on Top Gear are probably lost forever. If any angry mob chases LeBlanc and Evans through Argentina, it will be to relieve the boredom and not any sense of outrage.

Finally, Evans. Can he turn the volume down just a little? It’s a car show, not the super-terrific happy hour. He needs to try some decaf and let the events unfold at him rather than try to hype everything just for the sake of hype.

Meanwhile, whatever moderating influence from another host seems to be lost by having a fleet of other drivers climb behind the wheel of cool cars and we, the audience, are left wondering who the heck are these people and why should I care?

The situation is not unsalvageable. No, the BBC can’t bring Clarkson back. But they could pull back a bit on Evans, find one person to be the third presenter, put LeBlanc in charge of the celebrity interviews, remove the gimmicks from the interview format, and burn the scripts.

They need to do something because the Top Gear is slipping in the ratings, and it can only get worse as more Americans find themselves watching May and Hammond competing to see who can assemble a DHL box faster on Facebook rather than watching someone else race a Ferrari.

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