I finally got around to watching the first episode of the new Top Gear season last night and, having seen lots of mixed reactions on Twitter since Sunday evening, I can understand why.
That said, I was not disappointed with it, in fact there were plenty of moments I enjoyed. But I do think both the studio behind it need to realise the show will have a much better chance of lasting if they let the new hosts make the show their own, rather than trying to re-create the chemistry Clarkson, Hammond and May had.
I think Chris Evans was fine, particularly when he wasn’t in the studio. He felt more natural during the pre-recorded bits and I get the feeling this is because there wasn’t a teleprompter in his face. He’s clearly passionate about cars, we’ve known this from him being a guest on the old Top Gear and he does seem to have a good chemistry with fellow hosts Matt LeBlanc and Sabine Schmitz.
Speaking of Matt LeBlanc, he has generally been seen as a strong point of the new Top Gear and whilst I wont disagree with you, I think it is a bit harsh for the rest of the show. If you ask me, much of the reason the show felt a little off is due to watcher expectations. Most of us were upset the show had ended, even if we did deep down understand that Clarkson did have to go. And under Clarkson, Hammond and May, the show had been the same for many years.
So with a new show coming, even though we as the watching public had been told it would have a new set of hosts, expected the new series to be the same. The directors seemed to struggle with balancing new and old and I think this is because they were concerned about expectations. But if they had fully committed to letting the new series be itself, and the audience was prepared to accept it as what it was, I think we would be talking about it differently.
Let me put it this way, my fiancée would refuse to watch the old Top Gear, because she could not stand Clarkson. She watched the new Top Gear on Sunday evening without me even mentioning it and enjoyed it.
Going back to what I mentioned before, the pre-recorded sections were the strongest part of the first episode, which is good because these are, clearly, pre-recorded and it would a bit late in the day to do re-shoots of these. The weakest part, in my opinion, was the ‘Star in a Rally-cross Car’ section. I’m not really sure why, Chris Evans has plenty of experience with interviewing, but Gordon Ramsay and Jesse Eisenberg had no real chemistry and, despite trying to contribute to conversation, Jesse clearly had little to add to conversations about super cars. By himself, this would have been fine and Chris could have concentrated more on the play Jesse has written and stars in, or his recent movies, etc but as it was, it just didn’t work. Fortunately, I understand these bits are filmed live in the studio each week and so should hopefully be able to learn and amend going forward.
So overall, whilst it wasn’t by any means a classic, I do think it had promise and the biggest thing to me is that both the public and the studio behind it, give it the opportunity to stand on it’s own merit, rather then simply trying to be the same as it was.