NEW TRAILER. Why Top Gear could be great again

Top Gear releases a new trailer for the upcoming season. But has the series too far in the wilderness after a rough ‘debut’? Our man James doesn’t think so…

Fair play to the man, he did give it his best shot

In the wake of poor TV figures, Chris Evans is long gone from the Top Gear studio, calling it quits after just a single season. Many (perhaps yourselves included) will be toasting the news heartily, because, let’s be honest, the overly not-quite-Clarkson-but-attempting-to-be shoutiness of his performance, the lack of any real chemistry with his co-stars, and good Lord, those tight jeans didn’t exactly endear him to many of us. Quite incredibly, for a man who hosted his own Radio 2 show for years as well as the surprisingly popular TFI Friday, even his celebrity interviews seemed forced and uncomfortable. Seems ironic now that one of Evans’ most remembered segments on Top Gear was being carted away on a stretcher…

But before we sing too many praises, let’s play devil’s advocate. For starters, hosting such a niche television program is hard, and I say that with no experience whatsoever on the subject but with quite a few TG marathons under my belt. In this job, I’ve found that people are either fascinated with my role as a motoring journalist, or give me a polite “ah”, the universal sign of pretending to be interested. Can you imagine what it must be like on perhaps the BBC’s most famous program that regularly pulls in millions of viewers a week? Under such intense spotlight, you NEED someone who can hold an audience AND knows his shiznit about cars.

Indeed, part of the reason Evans got the job in the first place was a genuine sense of character – love him or hate him, on the radio, he did have some genuine charisma – and with a mighty car collection under his money belt, he did at least have the enthusiasm. But an actual authority on cars? Unlikely. May and Hammond might have been radio DJs and pianists respectively, but even they had tenures with motoring publications (May rather famously got fired from Autocar) just as Clarkson was a throwback to old, old Top Gear

And that’s where perhaps there is hope. Fans of TG who’ve watched the new series trickle by with barely contained boredom can’t help but notice that each episode has been improving in quality, especially those heavy with Chris Harris and Rory Reid, both of whom – as the new trailer shows – play substantially larger roles. Both are genuinely engaging to watch, both are household names (or on the cusp of), and both know their stuff. Even Matt Le Blanc, who struggled to muster any real chemistry with Evans, has now been given the freedom to make the show his own. Hard to see Joey fluffing that one, especially in front of a studio audience and with his ever-developing panache on the candid pieces to camera.

Similarly Sabine Schmidt, by the looks of it, is on restricted duty. Sabine, a well-respected nailer of the Nürburgring and occasionally entertaining personality, hasn’t quite set our screens alight, intermittent – occasionally baffling – screen time making it difficult to know what her role really is, aside from ‘can drive’ and ‘has boobs’.

Then there’s Eddie Jordan, former Formula 1 team owner, bone fide colour pundit for F1 coverage, but surely a panicked add-in when his contract walked out the door along with the Beeb’s F1 coverage. Plus, being unable to drive a Mercedes off-road? Sorry Eddie, there’s no coming back from that…

Now though, and again as the latest trailer suggests, there is potential for Top Gear to be great again. There’s a new, less cluttered line-up, two bone-a-fide authorities standing shoulder to shoulder with a credible presenter that, fine, make for yet another three-man act.

But given time and space for the chemistry to build, allowing the attempted ‘challenges’ and road trips to become slightly less nauseating and removing the pettiness altogether (I hope they’ve mercifully cut that god awful ‘on that bombshell’ dig at the end of each episode), Britain’s former favourite motoring show could just pull it back. Certainly the performance machines being lined up for the new season is nothing to complain about…

Yep, season 22 will not go down as one of the classic seasons. But there is hope, and while it may well have cost Evans his job – through scapegoating or not, we’ll never know – it does mean that there is still enough audience appeal that TG is not dead in the water just yet, and could even be on the climb once again after a few years in the wilderness. Don’t be so quick to get that Amazon Prime subscription just yet.

And on that bombshell, it is time to end. Thank you very much for reading (sorry).

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