I’m pretty opinionated, my children and boyfriend would agree. But I cannot for the life of me decide what I think about Top Gear so far. Voicing an opinion is not a problem the rest of the English-speaking world is having, if the complaints department at the BBC is anything to go by. Record objections after the first episode aired… followed by record viewing figures of nine million, once you take into account those watching on Catch Up, iPlayer, recorded shows etc.
JUN 09th 2016
Erin Baker – New Top Gear Is Bad, But Going Nowhere
It’s as bad as Brexit. On the one hand, the out camp: Chris Evans is too shouty, the viewing figures have been disastrous - 3.3m as opposed to 6.41m for the first episode of the last series (they’re only talking about the overnight ones - i.e. those who watched the programme when it aired), slipping by a third for episode two. Chris Evans might have to go. But in the remain camp: no-one liked Top Gear when James May joined it, the new format needs time to bed in, it remains the most-requested programme on BBC iPlayer.
Meanwhile, the sages stand to one side and say “It’s too soon to tell”. But something doesn’t feel right about this series. As my mum said: “I couldn’t care less about cars, but I’d occasionally watch the other series and find it vaguely amusing: this one’s just boring.” And so far, it is. Which is bad: if you take the best BBC crew and a presenting team including a racing driver, a pop star and the country’s most popular DJ to South Africa, to extraordinarily beautiful scenery, to race soft-roaders around while juggling outsized cocktails on a Hollywood A-lister’s lap, and it’s still boring, there’s something seriously amiss. Even Damian Lewis was boring in the studio, and I’m in love with him.
If nothing else, so far it’s a salutary lesson for the BBC that you can spend any amount of budget on exotic locations and very fast cars, but if there’s no banter, the British won’t buy it.
We love, above all, ribald humour, joshing around, self-deprecation, sarcasm, irony. We love old, fat, balding blokes wearing jeans and whacking engines with hammers to make them work. And we can’t even explain what’s funny about that, except that it is. Which everyone who worked on the previous incarnation of Top Gear got, and exploited, some would say beyond its sell-by date, but I’d wager that Amazon will find there are still pips to be squeaked come the autumn.
Of course, Top Gear should have died a death with Clarkson’s departure from the BBC. Yes, it existed before Clarkson, but it moulded to his personality over the years and ripping the two asunder has weakened both. The problem is, Top Gear is another RBS: too big to fail. It’s the ultimate BBC cash cow, bringing in about £50m a year for BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm, through DVDs, events, books and gaming, and acting as the BBC’s biggest commercial brand in 214 territories.
So we can carp all we like, but Top Gear’s going nowhere, no matter who’s at the helm.
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