Monday, 6 March 2017

Top Gear: Less Irritating Than Last Year, But More Dull

The last series of Top Gear was so catastrophically bad at times that a month on a skid pan would still not have saved it from being car crash TV. So how fares the new series?

Well they seem to have spent a lot of money on the set, although to be fair that could have been there last series too, but I was too distracted by the shouting to notice.

This time, I found myself looking at the set for something to do. It could have been the attempts at badinage and whimsy. It could have been the badly timed jokes. It could have been the fact that the jokes weren't funny. It could have been the hilariously wooden Matt Le Blanc, who used to be in a sitcom for crying out loud.

The biggest problem with this reboot of a reboot though is the confected mateyness. I know nothing of Reid, except the small amounts we saw of him in the last series. He comes across as so pathetically grateful for this gig it is almost sweet. Harris is actually a perfectly decent motoring journalist who can even be amusing to some degree. Le Blanc is the big star of course, the clever signing that the BBC is shovelling its cash at in order to persuade international buyers to keep, well, buying. You just have to hope that they got them to sign up purely on the strength of his name rather than after they had seen him. In much the same way as he once used to be a name in movies (after Friends), until anyone saw any of the resultant movies.

The first show was about an exotic test of an exotic car that, to be fair, would have been just as boring if Hammond, May or maybe even Clarkson had done it. Watching other people drive very fast around racetracks is really not desperately entertaining for those of us watching if they have nothing more interesting to say than this is really really fast. Then they cut to the studio and Harris and Le Blanc had a 'conversation' that couldn't have been more stilted or awkward had someone with a pot belly walked in and demanded a steak.

And this was the weak spot of the show and likely of the series. They aren't funny. Their efforts to be funny are painful. No matter how knowledgeable they are about cars, they remain three not terribly interesting blokes who don't know each other very well but who have to pretend that they do and that they are having a great time in each other's company.

They are doing all of this whilst trying to revive someone else's show, using someone else's ideas and format. This first show featured a road trip. So far, so predictable. It then compounded this by having them all buy a used car for a series of challenges. This has been done so many times before it now looks lame when the original trio does it. Here it looked like desperation: but forget the hackneyed ideas and script conventions they seemed to be saying (including lame joke about the unenthusiastic and bemused crowd going wild) just look at the scenery and production values. Watch while we pretend to be having a great time.

Anyone who watches this and says it isn't bad does so because they are remembering the old show and how it is supposed to be. If you came to it fresh you might not realise it was supposed to be funny owing to the fact that it isn't. Indeed the whole thing would leave you mightily confused. This is a poor man's version of the show it used to be with people giving an impersonation rather than putting their own imprint on it. Is it better than under Evans? Yes it is. But that is like saying that Trump's speech to Congress last week was better. He is still an appalling president.

Jay Leno, the former US talk show host, was once asked by US TV if he would consider being involved in the American version of Top Gear. He declined on the grounds that they would be unable to replicate the chemistry of the original trio. The BBC clearly think they know better. On the evidence of the last series and this first episode they most definitively do not.

To be fair it was not as catastrophically awful as the first episode with the shouty ginger bloke. But it is hard to see it building an audience. It might just have to settle for being just another show about cars. But if that is all it aspires to be, it can kiss goodbye to that monster budget and it certainly won't be able to afford Matt Le Blanc anymore. That could actually be what saves it.

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