Top Gear's second episode is better, but more of the same
Issues remain, including the terrible interviews and a lack of driving impressions.
We start with Chris Evans and a McLaren 675LT. TG leads into this segment with a long-tail, racing version of the McLaren F1 before switching into the 675LT. Then, McLaren-Honda F1 driver Jenson Button shows up. Sounds like a good recipe, right? It is. The footage is pretty and slidey. Button even gives out driving impressions. But the best part of this segment is in Extra Gear, with Evans driving the standard F1 at reasonable speeds in a rainstorm. No driving impressions, just chatting about the feels from driving a dream car.
Evans explains in an Extra Gear interview with Rory Reid that driving the McLaren is "a memory trigger point" – it brought out the same emotions as his first car, a classic Mini. There isn't a car enthusiast alive that hasn't experienced the intense emotional tug that comes from a special car. It's something that's central to enthusiast culture and Top Gear itself. The old TG knew how to harness and broadcast this emotion. It's promising that in at least some small capacity, the new show can, too. But they need to capitalize on it a little better.
With this segment, Top Gear has a chance to show that Evans is a real car lover, rather than just a shouty ginger that doesn't know how to pronounce Porsche. How? Open with the 675LT driving impressions, bring in Button to do his thing, and then head into the classic F1 and let Evans get emotional. Then, use the interview with Reid immediately after the feature. That would get rid of the cringe-worthy opening, lead to a tighter test, and give the hosts something substantive to talk about in the studio segment instead of tossing the potato to the Stig for a power lap.
Next up, Evans, LeBlanc, and F1 icon Eddie Jordan check out three diesel luxury CUVs. Unlike last week's test between Matt and Chris, this road trip through South Africa has a stated goal but the entire segment is missing a crucial element that made old Top Gear's road trips so successful. It's like nothing went into choosing the cars for the trip – a Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Macan, and Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class. There is no, "I was the first to arrive, and as you can see, I've done this properly...," no extrapolation or explanation about who picked what or why. It's like some random person plucked the cars from a test fleet because they were available and broadly similar. Seeing which host chose what made for some of the best moments in old Top Gear, and it's a shame that's missing here.
We also want some fresh ideas. Great, guys, you're racing three diesel-powered CUVs around a home-made street circuit. It's been done, and while it's useful for three mid-engined supercars, it does nothing for luxury crossovers. The brightest element of this test sees the hosts and their musicians use the rear-view cameras to capture Africa's wildlife. Aside from playing to Top Gear's running gag about failing to film animals, it's a neat challenge. We just want some metric for who won, because the results felt arbitrary.
Other elements of the show remain a stinking, awful pile of disaster. The Star in a Reasonably Priced Car was the most inconsistent element of old Top Gear, but the new show's painfully stilted, bloated interviews – with four guests this week – are far worse. The so-called Superstar in a Rally Cross Car took up 25 percent of episode two. That's 15 minutes, and it brings momentum to a halt. The other features could use some more screen time, so cut the interview in half and carry on.
But this week's interview highlights a bigger problem with the new Top Gear – a lack of confidence. All three elements of this episode had guests in every segment. Not only does it feel gimmicky, it keeps LeBlanc and Evans from standing on their own and developing chemistry. Whether this is a decision on the part of the producers or hosts, the show needs to cut the fat and let the presenters do their own thing. That strategy worked well with the Ariel Nomad video.
And it works in Extra Gear. Chris Harris, who is off running the Nürburgring 24, left TG's spinoff show in the capable hands of Rory Reid, who proved that he can do it all and do it on his own. He showed he can balance talking and driving with a test of the Volvo XC90, and his interviews with Evans, Jordan, and comedian Stephen K. Amos are tighter, more entertaining, and more natural than the 15-minute slog that is the Superstar in a Rally Cross Car.
While Reid is a revelation for the second week in a row, Eddie Jordan's debut is a mess. In one rather bizarre scene, we saw Jordan trash his GLC – twice – and get removed from the car by Matt LeBlanc, who looked annoyed at best and angry at worst. Jordan doesn't seems pleased, and his dismissive attitude toward his co-hosts made for a tense atmosphere during his interview with Extra Gear host Rory Reid. This felt more like bad blood than bad chemistry and is something we'll be watching in future episodes.
Next week's episode should at least address our issues about the hosting and interview. According to Evans, both Harris and Reid will be on the main show, and the guests should be better too, with drift guru Ken Block and comedian Kevin Hart slated to appear. With such a strong cast and the improvements shown in episode two, next week could be the first time the new season feels like Top Gear. We can't wait.
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