As the end of Series 22 edges closer, questions will again start to surface about the so called end of Top Gear. The show’s most sensible host, James May, has denied that the show has ‘jumped the shark’ but admits it has “jumped some very large fish.”
“Jumping the shark” is a phrase that is often used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality, and is signalled by a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of gimmick in an attempt to keep viewers’ interest going. It is inspired by the episode of Happy Days where The Fonz jumps a shark on water skis. Some might say Top Gear jumped a shark in India a few years back…
Top Gear has become one of the most popular entertainment shows in the world but has been criticised for forgetting its motoring roots and becoming too comical. More Top Gear Adventure Fun Time than Top Gear. The most recent example being Series 22 Episode 3, where the three hosts tried to invent a new ambulance and included a Thunderbirds-style sequence that blurred the line between a motoring show and a comedy routine. The whole thing felt more than a bit forced and in the end it really wasn’t all that funny.
But James says the team has worked to make it more about motoring than just boyish misbehaviour.
“There were one or two things like our Indian special where we’ve gone too far into tomfoolery and didn’t do enough about the cars… it was a bit too sitcom-ey. But we have to poke around in the dark to see where the edge is,” he says.
“I don’t think we have ever jumped the shark. We may have jumped some large fish in a very small way in the process, but we haven’t actually done the ski-jump over the shark.”
Along with co-stars Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond, May has been part of the show for 12 years – a period he says is “longer than expected, and longer than is healthy, probably”. The trio will travel to Australia next month for the annual Top Gear Festival at Sydney Motorsport Park. James claims the key to Top Gear’s success is that the trio are not friends off-screen.
“A lot of other people think they can do a programme in a Top Gear style,” May says. “They get three blokes or three women or a mixture of both, doing cooking, or travel or houses – whatever it is – and it doesn’t quite work because they haven’t realised the secret of our relationship is that we don’t really like each other. That’s what makes it work, that’s what makes it edgy and punchy. We’re creatively fuelled by mutual loathing of each other.”
The BBC-funded programme regularly courts controversy with allegations of sexism, racism and environmental vandalism regularly levelled at the show. May says the good-natured “love or hate” programme is misunderstood and he target of “a group of people that doesn’t like Top Gear… certain people will pick on anything to make it look like some terrible misdemeanour, but it never is, it’s at worst a slip”.
Recent stunts from the programme included a trip to Argentina with a Porsche featuring number plates that drew parallels with Britain’s Falklands War campaign against the South American nation, a stumble that saw the trio make international headlines as they fled the country amid mobs of protesters. All three presenters also have their share of side projects, with May’s being historical documentaries, wine-tasting and science experiments.
While Top Gear producer Andy Wilman has not announced plans to put a stop to the show, May says the team behind the program are looking to find the best way to draw curtains on the most successful motoring programme in history.
“One day it will have to end, or at least the version with us in it will have to end, and we’re going to have to think very carefully about that because inevitably if you don’t think carefully about something like this you do fly it into a cliff rather than making a nice safe precautionary landing in a field,” May says.
“You’ve got to end it carefully, and end it the way people want it to end, to leave people wanting more. But I’m sure we’ll fail.”