REVIEW: Top Gear 2016 – Refreshing Reboot or Glory Gone?

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After months of anticipation, rumours and quite a few headlines, Top Gear returned to our screens for the first time since the dismissal of Jeremy Clarkson and the subsequent departures of Richard Hammond and James May. But is the show as good as ever? Or have the trio left an empty hole that can’t be filled?

First, I feel I should leave a disclaimer, I was a big fan of the old Top Gear, the banter between the hosts and controversial stunts led to an extremely unique and entertaining show and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to Clarkson, Hammond and May’s Grand Tour show on Amazon. But, I was willing to give the new Top Gear a chance, after all it’d be great to have 2 super unique motoring shows of different styles to watch concurrently. Unfortunately however, Clarkson’s dismissal appears to all but finished off Top Gear, as many of us feared.

I was expecting a clean reboot of the series, I highly doubted Chris Evans would try and replicate the same style and format of Clarkson’s Gear, especially when it was so synonymous with the hosts, so I was a little surprised when the show began and it seemed to be going the same way any other episode would. But something was missing, something very important.

Say what you want about Chris Evans, but it’s hard to deny he’s truly put his all into this project. Despite all the criticism and negative press, he’s still clearly passionate about what he’s doing, albeit a little too much. Here lies my main issue with the show, Evans is way to hyperactive and shouty. A constant hype man, he desperately wants you to forget Clarkson and to pay attention to him and only him. It’s the kind of performance one would expect from a pantomime, the very definition of trying too hard. In fact, that’s a rather apt description for the show as a whole, they’re trying way too hard.

So what of his co-host Matt LeBlanc? Well, I’m grateful at least his delivery was way more subdued than Evans, even if it did come across as a little forced. I almost got the feeling it was a very easy paycheck for the former “Friends” star, as he read his next wisecrack from the teleprompter before being pushed aside when Evans next opened his mouth. For a man most famous for being a part in a hugely successful comedy sitcom, a lot of his jokes fell flat and even if they did work, they were enough to only warrant a slight chuckle, it was far from the constant laughs of the previous hosts. Did you know Matt LeBlanc was American? Even if you didn’t new Top Gear won’t let you forget it, almost every other word uttered by him was some commentary on his nationality, or “How crazy those Brits are”, even outside of the US Vs. UK challenge segment, safe to say, it got old very, very quickly.

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Which brings us to the various segments of the show. Starting things off was actually a pretty nice head to head review of the new Dodge Viper and Corvette which was pretty informative and showcased the cars really well, in a manner the previous series always managed. But from there I became a little less optimistic. The US Vs. UK challenge to me fell very flat and is one of the many examples of trying to reclaim former glory. The Reliant Robin portion in particular lacked any real point, they were driving pre-prepared cars and even when one broke down there was no consequence, we were just watching two hosts drive two cars we know to be bad without any interesting hook. The Jeep round had a similar effect, they were pre-bought and prepared by the producers, leaving next to no creativity. Who could forget the classic Top Gear moments such as the Boat cars, the Desert Explorers or the mock Police Cars? It’s unlikely this style will lead to any similar iconic images. These VT sections seemed incredibly scripted, even the challenges themselves seemed cut to deliberately to make it seem like things were closer than they realistically probably were.

Remember the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car? I would have said it was perhaps one of the hardest segments to possibly mess up of Top Gear, but Evan’s found a way. First off, I pose a question, what do celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey and actor Jesse Eisenberg have in common? Struggling? Yep, these two wildly different stars were paired together for some reason and pitched head to head over who owned the nicest cars. Ramsay is no stranger to the show, appearing twice before and revealed he’s purchasing a sleek new LaFerrari, but Eisenberg had no such luxury, never really owning a car more glamorous than a Honda Accord, a reveal that left quite a bit of humiliation. I’m actually a big fan of Jesse, I enjoyed both the Social Network and Zombieland and enjoy his and Michael Cera’s awkward style of acting, but it seems Evans didn’t quite get the memo on how he talks, constantly shouting over him, interrupting him and ridiculing him. After the interview which seemed only to only benefit mockery of Jesse, they moved onto the lap of the Top Gear Test Track… Only they’ve now tore up half of it for a new gimmick. The reasonably priced car is no more, instead being replaced with a new Mini Rally-Cross car, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of a celebrity driving an everyday vehicle. Everything just seemed designed to update existing segments without actually adding anything new, the series is doomed to being compared to what came before it.

On a quick side note, where were the other 4 reported co-hosts? We seen Sabine Schmitz very slightly in the Muscle Car reviews, but where were Chris Harris, Eddie Jordan and Rory Reid? Not that it matters much, it’s doubtful they could have saved the show.

I do wish I could have reviewed this without having to refer to what came before it, but Evans seems so desperate to claim the old Top Gear magic that it comes across as a flat soulless tribute, when it could have laid a fresh exciting new road to drive forwards on. Bring on The Grand Tour, because Top Gear’s soul is gone.

And on that Bombshell…

Image Credit: BBC