Is the new Top Gear any good?

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TAGS Industry news Is the new Top Gear any good?

30 May 2016 by Joshua Dowling · CarsGuide

The new Top Gear TV season has aired and the verdict is in. It's either what you expected or what you feared.

After rumours of dummy spits and back room bickering, the first episode of the revamped Top Gear has finally aired.

As painful as this is to say, it's either what you expected or exactly what you feared.

Like a car going in for an overdue service, the diagnosis isn't good.

We don't talk about catering on this show anymore

Although six presenters were named as part of the new line-up (seven if you include The Stig, the faceless racing driver in a white suit) the first episode is mainly hosted by BBC radio star and Ferrari fanatic Chris Evans and Hollywood star and car fanatic Matt LeBlanc.

The first 60 seconds bodes well. The voiceover that outlines what's coming up is suitably flippant, just like how Jeremy Clarkson and co used to deliver it, and the camera work and editing is superb.

But it all goes downhill from there.

Trying too hard, Evans gushes "brilliant, marvelous, amazing" apparently about nothing in particular in his first few breaths on the new show in front of the studio audience.

Following a comment from an audience member, he says "we don't talk about catering on this show anymore". Nudge, nudge, wink wink. Clarkson lost this job because of a spat over food, in case you needed reminding.

Within three minutes of the opening credits we're in a fast car with Evans at wheel. It's the new Dodge Viper, with extra wings and go-fast bits.

And, proving the Top Gear budget hasn't taken a hit, we're on a US military airfield.

Evans talks a bit about the car and then says "arrrrrrrrrggggggh" a lot as he takes a bend, just like Clarkson did but with less legitimate buffoonery.

Some of the lines are Clarkson-esque, such as "this is as close you get to a race car without having to wear fireproof knickers and a wrist band with your blood type on it". And Evans describes the epic 8.4-litre V10 engine "as cutting edge as a rusty crow bar".

But most of the lines that follow fall flat.

Enter the Corvette Z06, the Viper's nemesis, driven by Sabine Schmitz, the Nurburgring driving ace.

Presumably at the prompting of the producers she awkwardly repeats a line from the Top Gun movie "I feel the need for speed" as they set off.

Unscripted (perhaps he wasn't in on the joke) the US military guy in the passenger seat said there was a $10 fine for anyone on the base who quoted anything from Top Gun. I'd like to think he was speaking for all of us.

Then there is a race between the two cars with what appear to be guns or rocket launchers mounted on the doors and roof.

Then they pretend to hide. On an airstrip. At this point, the level of lameness is making the audience feel awkward.

The previous Top Gear trio at least had a thin veil of legitimacy to each story. The plot here (and, sadly, in each subsequent segment in episode one) is non-existent.

What we've ended up with is a lot of fantastic footage of cars being driven crazily, but no believable plot, however thin it used to be.

Sabine is funniest when she's saying things that were meant for the cutting room floor. Like every time she says "sh-t".

Matt and Chris head off to Blackpool. Matt looks genuinely bored

Back in the studio, they dub Sabine "Queen of the vomit comet" because she also made Evans puke during filming of an Audi supercar that is yet to air. Pattern emerging, anyone?

If her ability to make people ill is legit, it's almost funny. If they've set it up as a running gag, then not so much.

Before long we're in a couple of banged up Reliant three-wheelers that Clarkson and co made famous because they are so easy to tip over and so ungainly to look at. It's a miracle there are any left in Britain to buy.

Matt and Chris head off to Blackpool. Matt looks genuinely bored.

Poor Matt thinks he signed up for Bentleys and Aston Martins, and he's ended up on the back of a tow truck in pouring rain in a broken down Reliant.

At this point, it looks like he's wishing Pucks would make a comeback, the fictional show in his latest TV venture, Episodes.

You feel his pain. The segment appears to drag on forever, and we're not even half way to Blackpool. Or the rest of the challenge, which, as hard as it is to believe, gets even more lame.

Before that, though, it's back to the studio to watch shouty chef Gordon Ramsey and Jesse Eisenberg (the guy from the Facebook movie) drive an unreasonably priced car (a new Mini) over the new track which includes a dirt (mud if it's raining) rally stage.

Before we get to see their antics, Ramsey delivers a genuine scoop in the motoring world when he brings in a box with a key in it he received from Ferrari. It's the key to the roofless version of the LaFerrari supercar, of which fewer than 150 will be built.

It will be interesting to see if they honour his order as Ferrari likes its secrets being kept.

Then Chris Evans says "yay" a lot as the stars drive through mud, and the audience, presumably tired by now, give out cheers even though the studio performance deserved a fairy clap at best.

The result looks like what someone who's not a Top gear fan THINKS Top Gear looks like

At this point, I'd rather watch more footage of Matt sitting in a Reliant on a tow truck.

Just when you thought the plot lines couldn't get any thinner, Matt's in a desert in a new buggy -- and he must try to outrun "paparazzi" on a motocross bike, another strapped to a back pack helicopter thing and someone operating a drone.

In fact, it's merely an excuse to get footage of these three other things buzzing around the buggy. The result looks like what someone who's not a Top Gear fan THINKS Top Gear looks like. A lot of colour and noise and not much meaning.

As loose as Clarkson and co were, at least their story lines had a thinly veiled purpose.

"But now back to the pain," says Matt, after that segment ends awkwardly.

It's safe to say Matt is also talking about the audience at home and in the studio at this point.

Next it's Matt and Chris in a Jeep versus Land Rover (US versus UK, get it?), two immaculate examples of the original military machines, and a series of lame challenges that end up in the lamest challenge of all: driving to the top of a hill using either skill or brawn. Matt has a muscle man to move boulders, Chris has some Olympians help with directions.

Clarkson and co also failed at their ‘challenges' on many occasions, but at least they were ambitious in the first place. And that's what made them funny.

These challenges are hardly challenges at all. They're just people faffing about with some cars and a TV production crew.

The only thing that kept me watching this far in was the sudden burst of Rage Against the Machine backing music.

To be fair, the camera work and the editing are superb. The presenters, Chris and Matt are genuine gear heads who know their cars. If only they could be given more believable (but still ambitious) plots and a lot less awkwardness.

What the new Top Gear shows us is that there was a lot more of Clarkson and co driving the individual stories and the on-camera drama than the audience ever realised. Well, now we know.

Do you think the revitalised Top Gear will succeed? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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