Clarkson’s Top Gear was an interesting phenomenon in that it was possible to love and hate it simultaneously. At its best, it was exceptional entertainment. At its worst it was like a cross between 2 Fast 2 Furious and a pantomime written by a homophobic year seven.
Whatever you thought of it, it was a commercial juggernaut for the BBC and presumably paid for whatever combination of science and witchcraft has been used to keep Attenborough alive. Thus, when Clarkson was dismissed in 2015 – taking Hammond and May with him to Amazon – the channel was on edge. It needed Top Gear to survive.
Series twenty-six, the fourth since Clarkson departed, began on Sunday. It’s hosted by Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid, all of whom are strong presenters in their own right and seem to have a genuine passion for cars. It’s also beautifully shot and creatively written. Yet, despite all this, it’s still haunted by its past – though not in the way you might expect.
You see, the show has attempted to retain the competitive, ‘blokey’ banter that defined the Clarkson/Hammond/May relationship, and the presenters throw insults at each other relentlessly. But they’re tepid and there’s no conviction – a bit like if Roast Battle was on CBBC. The dynamic feels forced and it’s a real turn off.
Of course, it isn’t surprising that they can’t banter like ol’ pals. Manufacturing the level of friendship where you can be horrible to each other is difficult, and near-impossible when Matt LeBlanc is involved. I mean poor Rory Reid: his subconscious is probably screaming the word ‘JOEY!’ at him most of the time and if he lost concentration he’d presumably bellow something about Jennifer Aniston and then vomit. But he’s expected to poke fun at the Friends star ‘going grey’ like he’s known him since school; it’s no wonder it all feels more like a hostage situation than a stag do.
The sad thing is, the show doesn’t need this kind of dynamic. The ‘bullying’ worked with Clarkson and co. because believing they hated each other required no leap of imagination whatsoever. But the current presenters seem like nice, slightly nerdy men who, if allowed to behave naturally, would probably develop quite a sweet friendship. Sadly, any chance of this happening in future series has been utterly scuppered by the departure of LeBlanc – which can’t be helped – and the removal of Reid, which is, frankly, stupid.
Yes, from the next series, Harris will be joined by Paddy McGuinness and Andrew Flintoff, both of whom look and act like underwritten Grange Hill P.E teachers and both of whom make my skin crawl. It’s an odd decision for the BBC to replace their only black presenter with some ultra-white lascivious dad-lads, and I’m surprised it hasn’t backfired on them more. Reid is really good, too – at least in the four minutes per episode when he’s not being forced to shout ‘baldy!’ at Chris Harris – so it’s pretty unjustifiable. Sure, he’ll be presenting the companion show Extra Gear, but that’s been seen by fewer people than Bigfoot and is basically just a glorified redundancy package.
Anyway, with all that’s happened, you get the impression that Top Gear is still afraid to move on. After a few years of forcing some nice men to act like Clarkson-esc cunts, they’ve hired some genuine Clarkson-esc cunts, meaning an executive has clearly been looking at the ratings and screaming ‘it’s still not cunty enough!’ This would be understandable if The Grand Tour had been a roaring success, but it hasn’t. In fact, it’s been a bit rubbish and Amazon are only recomissioning it as a series of specials.
In essence, the formula that made Top Gear a success doesn’t work anymore, even with Clarkson, Hammond and May involved, so it’s mad that the BBC are still trying to recapture it. If Top Gear is to have a long-term future, it needs to adapt: find a different way of being funny about cars; explore different friendship dynamics that can be entertaining on road trips. To be honest, if they really want to make it interesting they should turn the whole thing on its head and hire some funny women who like each other but hate cars.
Because what could be more fun than some actual cunts on Top Gear?
Image credits: BBC