Despite the haters saying they weren’t going to watch it, an average audience of 4.3 million people still tuned in to watch the first episode of Top Gear Series 23. Although it is the lowest start to a new series of Top Gear in at least a decade, it isn’t that bad of a result considering the entire presenter line-up has been swapped out.
They always had big boots to fill, and the relaunched series with Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc were well and truly up against it on social media, where angry fans were unimpressed by the chemistry between Evans and LeBlanc, which some said was non-existent, as well as Evans’ shouting in an apparent attempt to replicate predecessor Jeremy Clarkson.
“Anyone who just watched the new Top Gear and thought it was good needs a brain transplant. Absolutely diabolical,” tweeted one fan. “James May has a show where he puts old lawn mowers together, piece by piece. In a shed. It’s better than this.”
Friends actor Matt LeBlanc was a wildcard heading into the series but it appears the American export shone in the pressurised environment. The Guardian’s Sam Wollaston praised LeBlanc for being ‘cheeky, quite funny and relaxed’ but criticised Evans’ performance as being forced. “Chris Evans is trying to be Jeremy Clarkson, and that’s probably not a good idea. There’s also an uncharacteristic nervousness about him; possibly because of that anticipation, the build-up, the weight on his shoulders, possibly because this kind of scripted stunt isn’t suited to him – he’s a chatterbox, not an actor.”
So far the new Top Gear appears to be a rehash of old stunts with fresh faces, with the new hosts driving around London in three-wheeler Reliant Robins. The UK Telegraph also accused producers of overplaying the United Kingdom versus the United States angle between LeBlanc and Evans, forcing them to drive around in cars brandished in their nations’ respective flags. “Forcing Matt LeBlanc to experience British Summertime – standing on a freezing, rainy beach in a cagoule – while he and Evans test a British car against an American car was yet another example of the cliche they’re ramming down our throats,” wrote Helena Horton. “It’s fun for one episode – but will this be the theme of the whole series? It could get tired.”
At this stage, we should remind unimpressed fans that the original Top Gear took a few years until it gelled after launching all the way back in 2002, so there is still some hope on the horizon. In the first episode, we believe Chris Evans was shouting more so because he was performing with the studio audience in mind, rather than focusing on the viewers through the camera. If you think back to Top Gear episodes of old, Jeremy Clarkson would often not reference the audience at all, except on rare occasions where he’d liken a car to a pair of large breasts on one of the ladies in the front row, or welcome Jesus into the studio. The BBC will either continue to push this new style and we’ll all get used to it, or they’ll have Evans tone it down a bit and relax just a little bit more. Less running around perhaps.
As for the rest of it? We loved Matt LeBlanc for his humour and relaxed presenting style. There were some genuinely funny moments during the first half of the London to Blackpool challenge, and we look forward to seeing more of what he has to offer later in the series. The Dodge Viper ACR vs Chevrolet Corvette Z06 wasn’t the worst thing we’ve ever seen on Top Gear, and the new Star in a Rallycross Car segment might need further refinement, but as a whole we thought the new team did a fairly decent job, all things considered.
For more information, check out our Series 23 Episode 1 guide, or for my thoughts on the new series check out Why I hope Top Gear will not only survive, but thrive.