After I was kindly reminded by some comments on Twitter, I remembered that a new season of Top Gear just started last night. So i decided to watch it. And write this review.
Many things were said by many people last year after Jeremy Clarkson did a Clarkson and got thrown out of the BBC, dragging his friends Richard Hammond and James May along with him. The bottom line seemed to be that Top Gear - although continuing with new seasons and new presenters - would become dead.
People spread ideas that the show would undergo a big revamp, but after watching the first episode of the new series, Top Gear still reminded me of the old show - and this is a good thing. Sure, it can't really be the same without the trio of clowns that we all loved, but it's refreshing to say that I kind of enjoyed it. Here are my first impressions:
The biggest idea that I can draw is that new presenters don't necessarily lead to a new format or a different general feeling. Chris Evans took on the role of being the big name of the show - kind of like Clarkson's role beforehand. Matt LeBlanc seems to have replaced the other two and there are things to be said about each of them.
While I was not waiting for huge visible changes on this front, it seems that everything Chris says during the show could very well have been said by Clarkson. Replace Evans' voice, tone and appearance with Jeremy's smug and bufoonlike way of playing his part and there is absolutely no difference in the show from this point of view. I can't really judge if this is a good thing or a bad one just yet, but the first feeling is that it's not all that bad.
I didn't fact check this and don't even intend to, but the writer or writing team the show have must be absolutely unchanged, because it is presented in the same funny, British and catchy style that every Top Gear fan has come to enjoy over the years. This is probably the first thing you'll notice, and a fact that will stay lodged in your head all throughout the show.
With LeBlanc - or Joey as I have him written down in my notes - this is no longer true. His interpretation of Hammond and May is pretty different than what we've seen before the show's facelift. It could be because he is American. He couldn't have fitted the hole Richard and James left behind even if he tried his best. His character is similar in a few ways, but doesn't go the full distance. Joey is doing a good enough job, don't get me wrong, but he looks a little bit flat, a bit on the stale side with his acting.
Right. Moving on the the show's format, I have news that - again - might be considered bad or good depending on what you as a viewer enjoy. As with the writing the show has, the format is basically unchanged. The lads (I might call them guys, since there's an American on the show now) are presenting everything from the same (?) hall with a live audience that apparently is bigger in terms of numbers.
From there, they switch to different segments that are basically exactly like before. Features that present new(ish) cars - this episode, a Dodge Viper facing a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 in a muscle car comparison and an Ariel Nomad through the desert - are there once again and the way they are set up will remind you of the old crew all throughout, as the writing and jokes give the viewer the same feeling as before.
We got to see the first appearance of Sabine Schmitz - driving around the Top Gun facility in California, with the German making fun of Italian cars ("The suspension is awful, like Ferrari") and allegedly making a fighter pilot throw up because of her driving skills. The Stig is back too and he looks as fast and funny without doing nothing as ever before.
We also got to see a frightening bit as LeBlanc drove through rocky desert terrain with nothing but a few bars and no helmet protecting his head. It later transpired that the Ariel car he was in had a windshield - at least that's a start towards safety. The part where he is chased down by three bad-ass paparazzis trying to make a living by snapping a picture of him was good and reminded of some sort of Grand Theft Auto mission.
Then, split into two segments, there was a Top Gear Challenge. The one in the first episode featured two Reliant Rialtos a Land Rover Mk1 and a Willys Jeep driven by Evans and LeBlanc in a not-so-unpredictable Britain vs. America face-off. The muddy finale was decent and included a few guest appearances, most notably from the Brownlee brothers, Olympic gold and bronze medalists in triathlon.
The last part I want to talk about is the one which suffered the most changes, it seems. The Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car turned into the Stars in the Rallycross Mini. So Top Gear dumped the old-average car for a more powerful one, and introduced two new parts in its circuit, which now features off-road stretches and water. They brought in two guests instead of one, but I suspect that's because the lap time leaderboard must be filled as quick as possible during the first few episodes. I won't reveal the names present, but I will tell you that it is likely one of them will be dead last when the season ends.
That just about wraps it up. What can I say? Top Gear is back, and I'm happy to report that is looks a lot better than I expected. For those of you who want a fresh, new format and a different all-round feeling, well, you'd better keep waiting for what Clarkson and co. will deliver at Amazon.
For those of you who loved the old Top Gear with its clever writing, poor-taste but very funny jokes and its traditional format, you could be in for a blast. If you manage to get past the new presenters, that is.
I managed to do that quite well and had almost the same fun watching it as before. It's fair to say I would recommend at least giving it a try and I'd rate the first episode of the new show with 4 out of 5 stars.
Clarkson would better make a copyright claim on his style, because it's here to stay at Top Gear, it seems. And that's not bad at all.
* same old