‘Top Gear’ returned to our screens on Sunday night, and from the off, it was immediately clearly that the new team of Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid, has worked tirelessly to play to its strengths, previously overshadowed by former frontman Chris Evans.
This meant we had an hour of three blokes, who clearly love cars, get on with one another enormously well, but are in no rush to emulate the much-prized chemistry, often with an edge, that made ‘Top Gear’ with Clarkson and Co such compulsory viewing beyond the nation’s rev-heads.
Here’s what we got with the re-booted reboot, and what we didn’t...
- From the very first intro, despite Matt LeBlanc’s premier billing, we had all three of them together - equal lines, equal camera time, with lots of smiling throws from one to another. Kind of like a motoring version of Blue Peter.
- Lots and lots of film footage - why waste time in the studio when you can be out on the track?
- Lots of beautiful, gleaming vehicles, and their rusty counterparts. Message received loud and clear - the cars are the stars once more.
- This means that Chris Harris - a journalist and racing driver - inevitably comes to the fore, whether it be accompanying the celeb on the track, testing out a Ferrari FXXK, or arguing about vehicle continuity in film footage. The car lovers’ car lover is everywhere.
- With him comes a lot of presenter awe - “I can’t believe I got to do this” etc etc. While the intention of this may be to make his enthusiasm contagious and accessible, it actually does the opposite - something neatly sent up by Rory Reid, who “can’t believe” he got to drive a Renault. Nicely done.
- All the familiar tropes - a slightly awkward celeb, and a stonking great film package to finish, this week’s being Kazakhstan.
What it hasn’t got...
- Any unnecessary studio time. The opening credits gave way to one throwaway joke, and then we were off to Ferrari-land.
- Any reference to Chris Evans. At all.
- Any spontaneous moments. The banter is all very scripted, as forewarned by Matt LeBlanc, who admitted his ad-libs got left on the floor. He’s a lighthearted enough fellow, but he’s a comedic actor, not a comic, which is probably why his VT packages work so much better than the studio stuff.
- Ease. This is a self-conscious trio doing their damnedest to bring us a show about cars. At their best out in the field where they can rely on the beauty of the landscape and their own enthusiasms to get them through. Not so good in the studio, looking at each other hopefully. Whether they, and this franchise, can survive the baggage of its past, so celebrated and then so derided, time will tell.
But hey, it’s better than it was.