Just over six weeks ago, I was sitting through the first ever episode of Top Gear in the ‘post-Clarkson era’. Many had chosen to hate it before it even aired, but I approached it with an open mind. After all - I remember thinking - we have The Grand Tour to look forward to, so if this revamped Top Gear ends up being half decent, we’ll all have two car shows to watch.
However, after an hour of wincing, cringing, and head-shaking, all those hopes were dashed. It was an unmitigated disaster. A complete train wreck. From Chris Evans’ shouty delivery to the horrifically boring and seemingly pointless Reliant Realto feature, it was indefensibly poor. I didn’t think it was possible for the show to recover from such an uninspiring opening salvo, but recover it did. Big time.
Episode two was - if not quite there - a huge improvement, and from episode three onwards, ‘new Top Gear’ became a show I genuinely looked forward to watching. This was mostly due to the presence of Chris Harris and Rory Reid - both of whom had been consigned to presenting only the ‘Extra Gear’ spin-off up until that point - with each of the YouTube imports putting out a stunning car film every episode. In the mix were some decent films featuring Matt LeBlanc, Sabine Schmitz, and even a few creditable efforts from Evans.
Having become known for episodes filled with ‘cocking about’, Clarkson, Hammond and May used to actually joke about having made an ‘actual car programme’ on the rare occasions they actually did. But with Top Gear series 23, it felt like we got four ‘actual car programmes’ one after the other. As far as proper car content goes, it was arguably the best series in years.
The trouble is, all of those elements from Harris, Reid and everyone else needed some kind of glue to be held together to form a cohesive package. And the main ingredient of that glue - Evans - just wasn’t working out. Harris and Reid were naturals, and even LeBlanc’s relaxed - if a little wooden - delivery was working. But Evans? Everything was always too forced, too try hard, and most definitely too loud. And that’s before you factor in his ability to talk insightfully about cars - or lack of.
So, it was no surprise that when Evans announced his resignation from Top Gear, we were presented with hundreds of rejoicing comments (a ridiculous 500 in the first 45 minutes across CT and CT Facebook). You guys are glad to see him gone, of that there is no doubt.
With the show’s weakest link gone, the future for Top Gear is suddenly looking a lot more rosy. The BBC may choose to replace Evans directly, but it seems more likely that Matt LeBlanc will have a more prominent role as the main host. That’s certainly how it sounds judging by a statement from BBC Studios Director Mark Linsey, who said Evans: “Firmly believes that the right people remain.”
Should that be the case, it’d open up a lot more screen time for Harris and Reid. We’d almost certainly see them in every episode - as the producers would be mad to repeat the ‘part time’ arrangement we’ve had this series - and might even see them on screen at the same time. As it stands, we’ve only seen them together for any meaningful length of time on Extra Gear, where the duo have displayed great chemistry even at this early stage.
As to where Sabine Schmitz and Eddie Jordan would fit into all of this, I’m not sure. Sabine is undoubtedly a great driver and was always a fun guest on Clarkson, Hammond and May’s iteration of Top Gear, but as a presenter she’s some way off the mark. English not being her first language is a clear barrier, and like Evans, she’s not adept at describing how a car feels to drive. And Jordan? I’m still not sure why he’s there, and with the way he comes across on screen, it’s almost as though he hasn’t the faintest idea either. Even if they stay, though - and if they do, are given clearer roles - the show has a very positive future post-Evans.
Top Gear may never reach the lofty heights of the Clarkson era in terms of audience figures, but I don’t care. It’s more about cars than it has been in years, and now it’s lost the main thing holding it back, it’ll only get better. Roll on series 24…