“Everything that’s old is new again.” A saying you hear from a previous generation. Lately, we’ve been seeing it more with The Force Awakens, and the resurgence in the 90s being cool again. The latest nostalgia effort comes from the BBC with the new season of Top Gear. After the Fallout with Clarkson, the BBC decided to go ahead and push forward with the series. The show just has a different feel with this cast than the previous cast and that’s evident as soon as the show starts.
New host Chris Evan drives the Viper ACR to kick things off. Whenever someone not American drives a car that’s super American, things usually go awry. However, we didn’t get much of that from Evans. Really he just talks about the ACR like he’s reading from a booklet or he's a poor car salesman. It’s reminiscent of the scene in Tokyo Drift where the jock is spewing off numbers about his Viper before racing Lucas Boswell. That is a huge difference from the original Top Gear. Say what you want about James May and his driving, no matter who was driving we got honest, good, and bad opinions on the car. If they didn’t like something they called it out, if they loved a car you could tell.
So in American “Muscle car” (not sure if either of these two are muscle cars) spirit, the show straps lasers onto the top of the ACR and its competitor the Zo6, and has a dogfight, and yes it’s as silly as it sounds. It ends up being fun, but everyone seems to be playing a character. Fun to watch, but not a lot to take from it. Actually upon further research they did this in a earlier Top Gear episode. Sabine Schmitz show's a flash of personality once and says ‘vette having awful suspension “like a Ferrari”. The ACR “wins”, but not before Sabine’s driving causes the top gear fighter jet pilot to throw up.
Evans isn’t atrocious behind the wheel, he just lacks an “it” factor. From the initial skit it seems an adequate portrayal of him behind the wheel is missing. Evans lacks the ability to properly articulate much about the car that we can’t read, while he’s driving. Once we get back into the studio, he’s full of energy and keeps the tempo well.
I’m unsure if he just isn’t a huge car guy or not, but I'd much rather see Chris Harris, Rory, or Sabine provide commentary on the Stig's driving rather than that of Chris Evans. Racing is one of those things where the commentary should make you feel as if you're there. The stig drives the ACR and puts up a time of 1:15:1.
We then launch into a UK vs USA challenge (a theme I hope doesn’t stick all season, there’s a bit of bias coming from a UK show). The challenge, drive Renault Rialto through the country. This is where the homages continue. The three-wheeled car challenge is a stape of the original Top Gear. The memorable film was funny, quirky, but mostly ORIGINAL. The film was unexpected, and it just fit because you DIDN'T EXPECT it. No one WANTED to see Renault’s race, but it was entertaining. This time it feels, forced for lack of a better word. Like the producers tried to bring up nostalgia and make what was old new and cool again. It comes across as fanservice, but from an accountant. The kind where they just throw something at you that they think you should like because stats say so. Nonetheless it starts out decently, but Matt’s car breaks down multiple times and they have to bump start it into the finish line.
For the Star in a reasonably priced car, they use chef Gordon Ramsey and Jesse Eisenberg. They swap stories about their first car, then discuss the most exciting car they ever drove. For Eisenberg it was a Porsche. He didn’t know which one, but with some convincing he remembered it was a 918. For chef, it was a LaFerrari, and along with that we got some amazing news. Ferrari is making a LaFerrari Spider. The two of them do a lap around a track in a rallycar speced Mini and Ramsey post a much better time than Jesse.
Matt LeBlanc’s standalone film with an Ariel Nomad is actually outstanding, it nails the whole thing on all fronts. The camera work is good, it looks entertaining, and Matt's charisma behind the wheel makes it a joy to watch. His driving is entertaining and he genuinely seems to have fun with driving this vehicle, and it shows. The challenge; escape from paparazzi in the desert trying to take clean photo. They used a drone, a dirtbike, and some kind of jetpack contraption. Again an idea presented in the old Top Gear, but it’s a fun and exciting one. As you can expect the Dirtbike was the best competition.
To end the show they returned to the UK USA challenge. For the grand finale, they drove a Land Rover and Jeep trough the UK. Eventually, this skit just takes too long. Both cars had issues and it became less about driving and wasn’t even that much fun, like say the Renault film was.
The first question I had initially was, “Wait, what happened to Chris Harris and Rory, the two internet guys?” Well they are in a show called Extra Gear. Extra Gear is a behind the scenes look at the weeks Top Gear, and a few exclusive guests. Overall this is the “car guys” show. Sabine even gets more screen time to drive (she is on a racing team) and it just comes natural to her. The show felt more organic, and fun. These two guys are doing it naturally because they like to get in front of a camera and discuss cars. I think the biggest difference was, these guys didn’t seem to be following a script, and they understand the style of media presentation that is successful today.
Overall, Top Gear isn’t terrible. However, Extra Gear feels more like what I had expected from Top Gear. A huge factor of the previous show was its cast. They helped make the format flow and feel great. There was an amazing chemistry the old guys had. The chemistry behind the old hosts is what made the show so enjoyable to watch. It made the show tick, and feel like a fun time. It felt like three friends hanging out and talking about/driving cool cars. Maybe, because we’re only one episode in things will get better. But going for nostalgia grabs will get old very fast. The cinematography, which was a focal point in Top Gear hasn’t lost a beat and It’s finding it’s own style based on presenters and it’s still excellent. As the show goes along it will find a groove. It’s not doomed. Top Gear should sort of wrap the show around its host, not attempt to wrap the host around the show. There's a reason why the three former host still have options to be picked up elsewhere. All in all on a Scale from first gear, to sixth gear, I’d say this top gear is second gear. Not enough to really get running on it’s own, still needs some coddling and coaxing to get it going, but it's out of the bothersome first gear.