Top Gear - or new Top Gear as it has become known in this post-Clarkson, Hammond and May era - has drawn to a close after what feels like a blink-and-you-missed-it six-week run. Not that you could blink and miss it, because even if you did miss the television show, the chances were that you will have seen it discussed here or elsewhere.
I’ll be honest, I’m massively grateful that we have a car show on primetime television, and for that reason alone I’m naturally inclined to favour Top Gear. I also think that, thanks in part to its time and budget, and the clever people working on it, the show has always had the ability to make really special programmes.
Sadly, though, there’s hasn’t been enough in the current series that has been special. There have been highlights - most of which have revolved around Chris Harris, formerly of this parish, and Rory Reid, who had a down-to-earth love and understanding of cars that shines through - but they have been few and far between.
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Disappointments? There have been a few, from the near total lack of fresh ideas (unless you count taking the old format and changing it 10% as being a fresh idea) to the over-the-top presenting style of Evans, who may be a true car nut in every sense, but whose insistence on acting like an over-excited child just makes him appear to be trying to compensate for shortcomings in knowledge, driving ability or whatever.
Matt Le Blanc has been a mixed bag. He’s been as wooden as an ancient oak tree in his delivery of lines from the studio (you can even see his eyes moving from left to right reading the autocue, for goodness sake), but equally, massively likeable - and, crucially, believable - in the filmed segments. If Evans stayed and he went, it would be an injustice.
The rest of the six-strong line-up (if we assume the Stig is a fixture, but even that pretence is starting to feel tired, especially as he/she was a Clarkson creation and it’s now transparent it has to be a feature as much for its global marketing value as anything else) have done nothing for me. Top Gear needs characters you can know and love, not a changing array of egos who fancy being on a car show. They simply didn’t add enough.
Beyond that, Jenson Button deserves a brief word of acknowledgement. Rumour had it that if he hadn’t re-signed with McLaren for this season he would have found a place on the show. Based on his likeable, personality-filled section in a single segment on the McLaren 675 LT, racing’s gain was television’s loss. Still, there’s always time.
So what next? Personally, I’d rebuild the show around Harris, Reid and perhaps Le Blanc and be done with the rest. It’s clear from their spin-off show that Harris and Reid know their stuff and have chemistry, and you sense that they could draw more from Le Blanc given time. Perhaps there’s room for some new blood, too - there’s so much good video out there being produced by a new generation now, led by the likes of Alex Kersten on Car Throttle, that could really inject some life and humour (and, again, knowledge) into the show. Above all, I’d give whoever’s left the time come up with something that’s theirs - not a rehash of a much-loved old format.
What’s clear is that without change, Top Gear will never hit the heights it once did. All things take time to gel, but there hasn’t been enough evidence in this disjointed series that there is enough substance in the current ingredients to get it right.
Top Gear is the sort of show where everyone’s got an opinion, of course, so feel free to leave yours in the comments below...