So, it’s back. After all the controversy, rumour and speculation Top Gear has finally screeched back onto our screens.
Predictably it’s divided opinion. Twitter is awash with people posting pictures of Jeremy Clarkson looking smug (that’s all of them, then) decrying the lack of “banter” and demanding to know who’s going to stand up to the PC Brigade now.
On the flip side people are praising Matt LeBlanc, pointing out that the on-location shoots were as good as ever and suggesting the new team be given more than 60 minutes to find their feet.
Overall, it was an expectedly nervy first run-out with Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc finding their feet in the studio; Evans throwing a supercar around an airfield, a suitably predictable UK vs USA challenge and an awkward pairing of celebrities on the couch. Only time will tell if the new team can maintain the show’s success but in the meantime and in the spirit of fairness here are some of the best and worst points of the new show:
1. Sabine Schmitz
She might only have been in for about five minutes but the German racing star has the potential to be a true breath of fresh air on the show. Her unflinching assessment of the Corvette Z06 - the suspension’s terrible, like a Ferrari - might not be the sort welcomed by manufacturers but such honesty from someone who really knows their onions has to be a good thing. Plus, swearing in a German accent is always funny.
2. Matt LeBlanc
Before the series started there were a lot of questions about using a former US sitcom star to front a British motoring show. LeBlanc answered a lot of those last night, his in-studio stuff with Evans was a bit stilted but throwing an Ariel Nomad around the desert he showed the enthusiasm of a petrolhead and the ease in front of the camera of a professional actor.
3. The cars
Whether it’s a “proper” car show or an entertainment show that happens to feature cars, Top Gear has always brought the most spectacular vehicles to our screens. Last night kept that going with the 645bhp Dodge Viper ACR and Corvette Z06 tearing up the Top Gun runway and the frankly bonkers Ariel Nomad tearing up whatever surfaces it liked in the Moroccan desert. Plus a classic Jeep and Land Rover and a couple of catastrophically bad Reliant Rialtos. With plenty more shiny metal to come, including the Ferrari F12tdf, McLaren 675LT and Rolls-Royce Dawn, still to come there’s plenty for car fans to enjoy.
1. Awkward audience interaction
Seemingly taking inspiration from Evans’s previous shows, there was a lot of TFI Friday-style camera swoops to baffled audience members who just stood there looking awkward. The microphones picking up the sycophantic whoops and cheers were far too loud as well and just add fuel to the “Top Gear as Evans ego trip” fire.
2. There wasn’t much new about “new” Top Gear
Aside from the presenters and tweaks to the celebrity driving segment this was very much business as usual. For many this represents a tired retread of an old favourite but since the last five series under Clarkson, May and Hammond have been exactly that as well, that’s a moot point. The show’s format needed seriously refreshed before the terrible trio got the boot and it still does if it’s to survive.
3. Chris Evans
He’s been getting a lot of criticism from Clarkson fanboys for not being Clarkson, as if that’s somehow a bad thing. It’s not. What was a bad thing was his nervous, overly excited presentation that made him look like he was trying too hard. The shouty, overly-matey, “hey, we’re all having a great time” schtick got annoying after one episode, here’s hoping he manages to tone it down for future episodes.