This week marked the debut of the new Top Gear featuring Chris Evans (the British version, not Captain America) and Matt LeBlanc. It was the first foray of the duo after the upheaval of the old hosts of the show and man did it feel like their first foray.
They opened the show with a pretty standard opener for the show. Visually appealing title intro and the like and then introducing the new hosts. This was one area Evans excelled at as he and LeBlanc were able to play the live crowd well. They made a couple quips about Clarkson with the catering incident and were able to get the crowd involved. I will also give BBC credit for the revamp of the studio. It still felt like the old show with the standing crowd, but it had more of a modern flare with the projector screen and elevated platforms.
The problem came with the start of their first filmed short. It was a look at the latest Viper from Dodge. A cool car with lots of fun features that make it one of the best muscle cars in recent memory. However, there was a problem with Evans style of presenting – none of that was ever relayed other than the fact the wing created a metric ton of downforce. In the opening sequence where they review a car, quite possibly, one of the more important things to do is actually review the car.
Instead of a review, we are left with a sequence of Evans and Sabine Schmitz, a female race car driver, driving around in the Viper and a Z02 Corvette at Top Gun school chasing each other to get a missile lock. While this could have been a fun segment to start your show with, it is not a review of either car – it felt more like somebody living out a fantasy.
We then go back to the studio and intro Evans and Leblanc’s first ever challenge. Driving three wheeled cars through the UK in a challenge that pits the USA versus the UK. (I generally feel this may be a theme and it will probably get very tiresome very quick.) The first thing you notice is that there is just no chemistry between the hosts. Their quips fall short because neither know where to push it yet and the two different comedy styling aren’t meshing right now. The race ends with LeBlanc’s car blowing up which to me is a failing on the producers. A car should not blow up in 250 miles of driving on the highway.
This is a continuation segment though where they pit the UK’s military Land Rover versus the US’s military jeep. In a couple of challenges, the US jeep wins (the drag, drag, drag race was rather amusing) giving LeBlanc a one second head start in a final race. The final race was actually one spot I saw glimpses of what I loved about the original Top Gear. A quirky challenge that has no place in the show. Racing the jeep and the Land Rover up a mountain with the three wheeled cars in tow. Evans wins by cheating, but the chemistry of Evans with the triathletes and LeBlanc with the powerlifter are actually pretty solid. This portion of the stunt doesn’t make up for that awful one early in the show though.
There are two places I thought the new presenters did well in. The first was the new Star in a Rally Car segment, a spin on the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment that was previously on the show. Gordon Ramsey and Jesse Eisenberg were the first two to participate and this is where Evans’ years of experience as a radio host really shown through. It was a good interview – all except for the Ferrari commercial in the middle of it. Seriously, next time this happens, just throw a Ferrari logo in the corner and it will at least make sense. However, Evans did a good job with the interview and the rally car aspect of it really was a neat twist.
The other aspect I thought that was done well was LeBlanc’s solo segment. He was racing the papparazzi in an off road buggy. I thought in this segment, he actually did well with a review while adding a few funny jokes. The segment felt disjointed, but at least it entertained.
As a first foray into the new presenters, I felt there is hope. You can see Evans’ enthusiasm in the show and LeBlanc has a softer comedy styling that could work. It is still visual eye candy, but at the end of the day the whole thing felt disjointed. If there wasn’t years of sweat equity built by Clarkson and crew, I don’t know that I would tune in again. However, I am willing to give it another shot to see if they can put together a quality program. Otherwise, I will be like many others and waiting for The Grand Tour.