Entertainment & Arts

Top Gear: Trying to hold on to the magic

Matt LeBlanc, Chris Evans and The Stig
Image caption Matt LeBlanc and Chris Evans are among the new team of six presenters along with The Stig

Star in a car - check (it does have a new water splash and jump).

Comic race - check. "Some say... he's called the Stig." - check (word for word). Supercars speeding through exotic locations - check.

Power lap times - check (leader board is unchanged). Clarkson? "We don't talk about catering on this show."

Jokes? Not so many.

Chris Evans said he wasn't going to mess with a winning formula and he was right. Shows are normally relaunched in an attempt to revive a flagging format - but this was all about trying to hang on to the magic with different people.

The Guardian was so interested, it live blogged the show.

Their reaction? I won't spoil the surprise - you can read it for yourself. The post-show online discussion on the BBC Worldwide site also wasn't impressed.

Everyone knows the only reason there were two new faces in the Top Gear studio was because of an incident at a Yorkshire hotel in which Jeremy Clarkson gave a producer a swollen bleeding lip and a torrent of abuse.

The question is how much the success was down to the formula developed by Clarkson and producer Andy Wilman, and how much it was the personal chemistry of the team who are now creating a motoring programme for Amazon.

I think Top Gear fans can now hazard a guess.

Certain things cannot be denied. Evans was born to stand in a crowded studio exchanging larky banter. The reinvention of Top Gear in 2002 by Clarkson probably owes something to the atmosphere and irreverent energy of a show like Evans's TFI Friday.

But the running around in the studio, the shouting - there was more than a touch of eager puppy here.

Image copyright Amazon
Image caption Former Top Gear hosts James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond have signed a deal to front a new motoring show for Amazon

The first race was classic Top Gear across the country between Evans and Matt LeBlanc in Reliant Rialtos, but the race came to an end with a breakdown after a few minutes. However, the film carried on.

Checking on Twitter reassured me that I was not the only one who was surprised when we returned later in the show to more from Blackpool. At least Blackpool's mayor was funny.

One of the things that is overlooked in Top Gear is just how much work goes in to the script. The filming, editing and post-production is obvious from even a casual viewing but the construction of the narrative of the stories, the interactions, the jokes and the resolutions were what made it stand out.

What seemed spontaneous and effortlessly funny, wasn't. If watching people driving cars was inherently entertaining then the world would be filled with internationally successful car programmes. In many ways Top Gear was a sitcom pretending to be a car programme.

Clarkson spent more than 10 years working on Top Gear car films before truly cracking it. In the late '90s Top Gear was a dead format - even the relaunched Top Gear before James May was introduced was far from the show it was to become.

This, however, isn't being allowed a long run-up time in which it can tinker and experiment.

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