Monday 23 September 2019

'Some of the banter was a bit cringe' - Seven things we learned from new Top Gear

Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc during the first episode of Top Gear
Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc during the first episode of Top Gear
Matt LeBlanc (left) and rally driver Ken Block (right) during filming of BBC Top Gear. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Top Gear presenters (left to right) Chris Harris, Rory Reid, Sabine Schmitz, Chris Evans, Eddie Jordan and The Stig. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Ed Power

The hype was as thick as diesel fumes as Top Gear returned with controversial new presenters Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc. With politically incorrect power trio of Clarkson, Hammond and May off enjoying all the hot dinners they want at Amazon Prime, would TG 2.0 stick with the erratic charm of its previous incarnation? And what of rumours that Evans and LeBlanc’s petrolhead bromance has already gone off the boil?

With so many moving parts, there seemed an infinite number of ways a revamped Top Gear could go wrong. In the event the first episode of the new series was neither a smoking wreckage nor a champagne-splashed triumph. Instead, it can be judged a qualified success, Evans’s and LeBlanc’s very obvious jitters offset by the sumptuous  – and presumably cash intensive –production values on show in recorded jaunts to Nevada and Morocco.

It’s worth noting, however, that the immediate online reaction was negative in the extreme – if the future of Top Gear was up to Twitter, Evans and LeBlanc would already be on the way to the TV scrap-heap. Here’s what else we learned.

Some of the banter was a bit cringe

For all his less admirable qualities, Clarkson has a genius for over-stretched metaphors. Foolishly, a VERY SHOUTY Chris Evans tried to channel his inner Jezza with undignified results. "This is as close as you get to a race car without having to wear fire-proof knickers and a name-tag with your blood group on it," boomed Evans as he steered a Dodge Viper across an airforce runway in Nevada. By the dizzying standards of TG banter, it was close but no cold platter supper.

The Top Gun Sequence Was Baffling

Why were Evans and new occasional presenter Sabine Schmitz driving around an airbase trying to ping one another with laser-mounted American muscle cars? The premise made no sense while the actual "chase" was disappointingly contrived, with none of the old TG’s of the edge-of -seat silliness. It was like watching a slightly rubbish cover-band.

Love Tap” is a driving term now

“Is it okay to give you a "love tap?” leered Le Blanc as he shunted his Reliant Rialto into the back of Evan's at the start of their road trip to Blackpool. This was as sparkling as the interaction got, the duo’s back and forths otherwise reeking of canned bonhomie. If there’s chemistry, it’s going to take a while for it to come alive on screen.

Twitter wasn't too impressed

"I'd rather stick pins in my eyes than watch the new Top Gear, " chimed one punter – and that was just ten minutes in. At one point, LeBlanc's shiny leather jacket was winning better reviews than the actor himself.

Jesse Eisenberg should be the new host

 A charming, witty American capable of speaking intelligently about automobiles… Star In A Motorcross Car guinea pig Jesse Eisenberg was exactly what Top Gear producers were looking for in an overseas anchor. LeBlanc, in contrast, began horribly wooden, struggling to wrap his mouth around foreign words such as "bonkers" and "Blackpool”.

Still, he went some way towards redeeming himself with a nicely dry turn guiding an off-roader around a desert in Morocco. No longer required to be Evans’s bestie, he relaxed into the presenting role and made for good company. More of that if you don’t mind –  and less of Evans flashing his terrifying “please, please like me” grin. It will haunt our dreams.

Gordon Ramsay is obviously paid too much

Angry Chef Gordon Ramsay was wheeled on to boast about his new wheels, a $1.5 million LaFerrari– and then revealed he'd treated himself to a second, even more limited edition, of same car. One LaFerrari is an indulgence - two is just showing off.

They need to tone down the US v UK thing

A deep-tanned Hollywood celeb such as Matt LeBlanc wearing a cagoule on rain-whipped Blackpool pier was indeed hilarious. But Top Gear is an international phenomenon and Britain a relatively globalised country. The constant emphasis on LeBlanc’s nationality was from another decade. Yes, he’s an American abroad and completely idiotic about British geography. The point is acknowledged – with another five episodes this season, can we just move on now?

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