A comedian, a former cricketer and one of the most well-known, respected car journalists in the industry. It’s not the most obvious combination of people to form the presenter line-up of the world’s biggest motoring show.
The fresh team consisting of newcomers Paddy McGuinness, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff alongside existing TG man Chris Harris represents the third major change to the show in as many years. Indeed, former England cricket captain Flintoff even joked that “I know Top Gear has had more rebirths than Doctor Who lately.”
Then Radio 2 Breakfast host and veteran TV presenter Chris Evans infamously only lasted one series at the helm. A few seasons on, the most recent trio was ditched after Matt LeBlanc departed due to the hefty travel requirements, with producers relegating Rory Reid to Extra Gear presenting duties only not long after. Will this new, new, new-look Top Gear be the one that finally sticks? After watching series 27 episode one, I hope so.
Really, it’s pure chance that Top Gear in its post-2002 guise worked so well. It was fronted by three motoring journalists (admittedly one, Jeremy Clarkson, already being a household name), between whom extraordinary chemistry formed over the following years as the show grew in popularity. The chance of repeating that is damn near impossible, so what the BBC has done this time is something a little different.
The choice of Flintoff and McGuinness inevitably proved to be a worry for a lot of petrolheads - they’re not exactly going to be experts on the world of cars. But, sticking them with Harris and using each presenter in the right way has turned out to be a bit of a masterstroke.
The Ethiopia road trip - which saw each of the three hosts buy the closest thing possible to their first cars - had a cohesiveness to it Top Gear hasn’t experienced since the Clarkson, Hammond and May years. The segment wasn’t the most original, but it played out smoothly with Harris’ car knowledge and enthusiasm paired to the humour and presenting experience of the other two. With a few short man jokes chucked in for good measure.
Amongst car bores Harris rightfully enjoys a lofty reputation, so it does sit weirdly seeing the man become the butt of most of the jokes. But no matter - plenty of room has been left for him to slide around in supercars. Much like he does in Chris Harris Drives, but with the technical detail understandably toned down to appeal to a wider audience.
It’s that last bit that’s key. Yes, the short-lived LeBlanc, Harris and Reid iteration of the show had its moments of brilliance, with the Japan-based episode being one of Top Gear’s best ever. But the hosts never quite clicked in a way we’d have liked, and it was almost a little too car-focused.
TG, we must remember, isn’t just for us lot. It has to appeal to a much broader audience. Now, it looks like it might just be able to do that, while still keeping most petrolhead keyboard warriors happy.