Top Gear returns to BBC2 with Chris Evans and Matt Matt LeBlanc taking over from Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May after Clarkson punched his producer in a restaurant (which was referenced, here, in the first few minutes in a not very funny catering joke), on top of a number of previous indiscretions.
As just an occasional viewer of the original programme, I was curious to check out this first episode, but… just two ten-minute clips out of the whole hour were available, rather than a whole episode, which made me wonder what they were hiding.
The first piece took place at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Developer Center in the Nevada Desert aka where Top Gun pilots go to learn how to feel the need… the need for speed. Evans and one of many co-presenters, world record-breaking German racing driver Sabine Schmitz, went head-to-head with one in a Dodge Viper ACR, a car that goes 0-60 in 3 seconds and has a top speed of 177mph, with the other in a Corvette Z06 – a vehicle that’s more powerful, has a quicker 0-60 and a faster top speed.
So, what was the challenge? Top Gun instructors took control of laser-sighted guns mounted on top of both cars – similar to the chaingun I’d like to put on my Punto to take out idiots who fail to indicate when changing lanes on the M60. Whichever car got a missile-lock on the other one wosauld win…
The other saw Matt Matt LeBlanc testing out the Ariel Nomad all-terrain offroad vehicle, which looks pretty cool but it has no outside panels to the thing so as he drives through a river he, naturally, gets wet. It has less horsepower than a conventional car, but since it weighs barely anything, the power you feel is immense and the 125mph top speed feels like a lot more. It was interesting to learn that the bodywork is made of the same material as traffic cones, so it bends instead of dent “if you bump into a medium-sized mountain”. A tip that might be useful for a certain Buckaroo Banzai…
The challenge, this time, was for three men to try and take a picture of Matt while he’s driving at speed – one with a drone, one on a motorbike and one in a hoverpack/parachute combo. Would any of them manage it? You can see that these challenges are all a little irrelevant when it comes to choosing your next four-wheeled two-ton piece of metal to take you to work on a regular basis.
There’s also more co-presenters due in the form of former driver and current Formula 1 commentator Eddie Jordan, motoring journalist Chris Harris, and car reviewer Rory Reid. Too many presenters, but Jordan has yet to be seen, and both Harris and Reid get relegated to an online-only piece. Given how much padding there was in the main show, some of that could easily be clipped out in favour of something different. Perhaps even some reviews of cars! Now there’s a thought!
Add in driving daft challenges beginning with travelling from London to Blackpool in convertible Renault Rialtos, the bleeping out of Evans referring to himself as a ‘dick’ (heaven help them if a future guest has that name!), Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car being replaced by Star In a Rally Cross Car – the first episodes guests being Jesse Eisenberg (Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Gordon Ramsay – the latter being unsurprisingly sweary, even though you know he can reign it in when he tries, and… a complete lack of any excitement or enthusiasm from the audience.
I don’t know a huge amount about cars, but it’s clear that Evans follows on from Clarkson et al as someone who knows what they’re talking about, even if some people can find him annoying. Le Blanc seems to know about as much as me (and I’m someone who needs the RAC to come along when I need my tyre changing) but he’ll forever have his famous Friends character, Joey Tribbiani, giving him a leg-up.
So, it’s an all-new presenter line-up for Top Gear but the content remains pretty much unchanged. Same variation on the opening music, same studio, same blokey nonsense, added sycophancy from Evans (bringing in the staff from his local curry house) and, no doubt, less viewers next week.
For a show that’s had a crazy amount of promotion, the whole thing felt very average – barely getting out of second gear if I was to use a car-related metaphor. This first episode will get good ratings, but how long will it carry on without its original trio after 22 series? And given Chris Evans’ propensity to get itchy feet about most things he does, will he stick around for more than one series?
Top Gear Series 23 is available to pre-order on Blu-ray and DVD, and the series continues next Sunday on BBC2 at 8.00pm. If you missed it, you can watch the first episode on BBC iPlayer, up until June 28th, and click on all the images in this review for the full-size versions.
Episode 1 Score: 4/10
Series Director: Mark McQueen
Studio Director: Simon Staffurth
Producers: Zac Assemakis, Tom Gent, James Wiseman, Ruth Breading
Series Editor: Alex Renton
Writers: Danny Baker and Paul Kerensa
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.