12 Thoughts on the Revamped Top Gear Premiere
Spoiler: Chris Evans is awkward as hell.
Last night, the new iteration of Top Gear debuted on BBC America. As the familiar opening strains of The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” hit, we couldn’t help feeling like mom and dad had divorced and we were seeing dad’s new place for the first time. It's supposed to feel like home, but it doesn't, and yet he’s still your old man and you want to like it and be happy for him, even if he’s trying too hard to be cool and really missing the mark, so you go in with an open mind and try to reserve judgement. Still, you’ll have some thoughts—like, perhaps things were better when they were happily together.
Yeah, this is like that.
1) Did Chris Evans really need a final dig at the studio audience after repeatedly cursing at them? The 50-year-old host opens the show with “Welcome to Top Gear with our all new, improved audience.” They cheered at this, but as the above link suggests, they had to, lest Evans flog them.
2) Evans is quite the awkward fellow. First, he seems to have one volume setting and that’s “FUCKING LOUD.” Despite having a mic, dude shouts everything like he’s just ripped a line of nose candy and is TREMENDOUSLY EXCITED, SERIOUSLY, TREMENDOUSLY EXCITED TO BE HERE! Second, his fashion choices are odd, from tucking his dad jeans into his boots to a ratty jumper with his undershirt exposed. Third, when he introduces Matt LeBlanc, he feels compelled to sprint over to Joey and then run around him because...well, we have no idea why. LeBlanc stifles a patronizing look and you almost see him counting the zeroes on his (assuredly large) paycheck in order to keep calm around Evans’ antics.
3) How long before they’ll take a shot at Jeremy Clarks...ah, there it is. Barely two minutes in and Evans screams about “not talking about catering on this show anymore.” The audience laughs anemically, presumably out of fear that Evans may have them drawn and quartered.
4) The Dodge Viper ACR is too much car for Evans. The first segment sees Evans pitting a Viper ACR against Sabine Schmitz in a Corvette Z06. The premise is simple and good: which American muscle reigns supreme? The setting is the U.S. Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center, A.K.A Top Gun school. The pair of coupes hurl around empty runways, laser cannons affixed to their roofs, and a Top Gun fighter pilot sitting shotgun manning the weaponry. First to lock on the other car wins. Evans spends a bit of the segment talking about how great the ACR’s massive rear wing is at keeping the car glued during a turn before spinning it, in a turn. Sheesh.
5) Schmitz is not a ‘Vette fan. The Queen of the Nürburgring calls the Z06’s suspension “awful, like a Ferrari.”
6) Evans and LeBlanc’s chemistry is off. The over-produced segments highlight this. As the duo set off for a 250-mile road trip in crop-topped Reliant Rialtos, their banter feels scripted, though LeBlanc does his best to deliver the lackluster words fed to him. Maybe more importantly, the contrived nature of the segment lends itself to a bit of “who cares?” There’s not much need for dramatic music and hyperbolic cheering when LeBlanc’s Rialto—which refuses to work—starts up, or breaks down. That stubborn Rialto is a nice analog for this pilot episode, actually: sputtering, underwhelming, and on the verge of collapse.
7) Evans bears a strong resemblance to Brick Top from Snatch. No?
8) Why the hell are Gordon Ramsay and Jesse Eisenberg appearing together as guests? Part of the real answer is Brad Pitt dropped out. Ramsay makes good sense; he’s British, energetic on camera, and a proper car nut. But plopping the (comparatively diminutive) Eisenberg on the couch beside the chef? Dear god, why? Eisenberg’s first car—an early Honda Accord—was also his best one. They paired a man who makes a mean burger with an actor who's good at mimicking symptoms of Aspergers.
9) That being said, Ramsay’s garage will induce drool. He’s one of the 450 lucky owners of a LaFerrari, after taking delivery nine months ago. The first thing he did? Drive from the lot to his daughter’s school, thereby embarrassing her. "You look like a granddad in Batman’s car," was her precise quote, per Ramsay. We also get confirmation that, not only does the LaFerrari Spider exist, but Ramsay will be one of the 150 people to get one (he even produced the key during the chat).
10) They’ve turned the celebrity track laps... into a rally cross? The new reasonably priced car is a Mini Cooper and they’ve infused bits of a lackluster dirt track with the asphalt one we’ve come to know and love. Eyeroll goes here.
11) LeBlanc shines when left alone. The best segment of the program was LeBlanc hopping in the Ariel Nomad and whipping it around the Moroccan desert. His commentary about the blistering all-terrain attack machine is spot on. From comparing the curb weight to “as much as your mother’s g-string” to noting that the Nomad’s limited speed of 125 mph is more than ample since it feels like “low-level flight,” this piece feels the most like the old Top Gear—in other words, the stuff we want to see. His quips aside, LeBlanc can drive, too.
12) The Willys outperforms a series 1 Defender. The culmination of the crappy Reliant Rialto road trip sees LeBlanc placed in a Jeep Willys, while Evans is given a first-gen Land Rover Defender. There are three tests: top speed, a rope tug, and a triple drag race. The Willys trounces the Defender every time. Go, America, go! The only time Evans manages to chalk up a victory is when he cheats as the show ends.
We get that a new show takes time to gel, to find its footing. Still, this was not a great start. Also, the show got its lowest ratings in ten years. Somewhere, Jezza, Hamster, and Captain Slow are having a good laugh. Still, we’ll give it time to grow into the massive shoes it’s scrambling to fill.
And on that bombshell, it’s time to end.
What did you think of the premiere? Add your thoughts in the comments.