'Top Gear' Review: Chris Evans, Matt LeBlanc Make Their Long-Awaited Debut

Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc finally debuted their new show.

'Top Gear' returned this Sunday evening, in case you weren't aware.

After almost a year of hype and hubris, Chris Evans, Matt LeBlanc and co made their long-awaited debut at the wheel of one of the BBC's most important shows.

Were you impressed, or underwhelmed? Here are the high- and low-lights, as they happened:

20.00 - And we're off, with a rev and a pounding beat.

20.01 Without further ado, Chris Evans is in a car, talking very quickly, and loudly, about the Dodge Viper VCR, presumably to silence all doubters about his lack of motoring credentials. He's in Nevada, home of Top Gun - no expense spared.

20.07: The introduction of German star Sabine Schmitz, who makes up with driving skill anything she may lack in spontaneous banter. Talking of which, the forced ribaldry between Chris Evans and his passenger is starting to make me uneasy. Only 53 minutes to go.

<strong>Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc chat happily in the studio</strong>
Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc chat happily in the studio

20.10 The fast edits, pounding music and the throwaway lines of his American passenger make this feel like watching a computer game. With his words "I'm recovering from aerodynamic overconfidence" Chris Evans offers his first gift to the critics.

20.12. Back to the studio, with Evans quite visibly egging on the studio audience to laugh at his jokes. The result is, bizarrely, more audible laughter at every line, even though we can't see anybody in shot behind the presenters visibly reacting to any of the gags. Most strange.

20.13 First mention of The Stig, prompting Chris Evans to throw hands in the air, run up and down shouting "We got custody". Awkward.

20.14 Twitter is unforgiving, Chris Evans' biggest crime so far apparently shouting.

20.15 Everyone apparently on Twitter too busy telling Evans to stop shouting, to notice the weird business of the laughter in the night-time.

20.16 And here it is, the true test of the first big trip of the series - a pair of three-wheelers, from London to Liverpool. It's Matt versus Chris Evans. Or rather the US versus the UK. That never gets old.

20.17 Evans is still shouting, and now laughing at his own jokes, perhaps to encourage others.

20.18 The first challenge of the first trip - an overheating car engine, gives Chris and Matt more chance to show the fruits of their bonding. It seems forced.

20.20 Matt LeBlanc is left on his own for a few minutes, and his laid-back style gives us hope for the future of the show - relaxed, deadpan and enjoying himself, even in the rain in an open-topped car. I wish he'd lay off the Bill Brysonisms, though, mispronouncing city names to draw attention to his alien abroad schtick. "Birming-ham?" Please, like he's never heard it.

20.23. This segment has now gone on too long.

20.24 Back to the studio in time for 'Stars in what used to be reasonably priced but are now rally cars' to make their entrance. Gordon Ramsay, the chef, seems relaxed. Jesse Eisenberg, the evil villain of recent blockbuster 'Batman v Superman', looks terrified.

20.27 Oh dear. Evans is shouting again.

20.30 Amidst the general chitchat, Evans is sounding more relaxed, by pretending he's on his Radio 2 breakfast show. No more mention of cars. I'm missing Mr LeBlanc.

20.34 The backlash against the backlash on Twitter begins. "Don't forget how terrible Clarkson was in the 80s", etc etc. Well, yes, but there wasn't quite so much hanging on it.

20.37 Phew. Matt LeBlanc is on his own for an off-roader Nomad segment. Relaxed, sarcastic and very game at the wheel. A glimmer of hope glistens.

20.45 This segment has gone on too long.

20.52 The Jeeps segment gives the team another excuse to play the US v UK thing again. Things are looking up, however, with some drag queens appearing on Blackpool beach. No politically incorrect comments anywhere.

20.57 Final bit of Jeep business with help from a Brownlee brother, and a very strong man. "Why didn't you tell me about the turn?" Matt asks his co-driver accusingly. When all else fails, there's always Joey Tribiani to channel.

20.59 Back to the studio, and "I know what you're thinking," Chris Evans tells the audience. He may.

21.00 Credits roll, while Rory Reid and Chris Harris pop up to advertise 'ExtraGear' over on the BBC3 website, promising to tell us how the track was made. Oh yes, there's so much more where this came from.

Tap the first picture below to open the slideshow:

25 March 2015

Top Gear: The Story So Far...