Top Gear TV review: Evans and Le Blanc are the 1990s stars in fast cars
New presenters, new set, new cars, but the new Top Gear doesn’t reinvent the wheel
Taking over at the helm of Top Gear (BBC Two, Sunday) must be every motoring fan’s dream, like taking command of the starship Enterprise after the previous crew have been beamed down to some forsaken planet. Having sent Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond down the memory hole with Orwellian efficiency, the BBC must surely have had no shortage of petrolheads eager to get their grubby little hands on the wheel of this lucrative little franchise. They ended up picking a presenter whose last big TV gig was TFI Friday back in the 1990s, and an actor whose comedy show, Friends, also ruled in the same decade. Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc are an unlikely double act, but before we get a chance to size them up, they’re off and motoring without even waiting to get settled in and let their engines warm up.
Evans has still got his mojo - he comes on as if he’s been presenting Top Gear since day one, cleverly deflecting our scrutiny by introducing the show’s “new, improved audience”, before making the obligatory jokey reference to his predecessor: “We don’t talk about the caterers on this show.”
Le Blanc has filled out from his days as Joey in Friends, and he plays the laconic sidekick to Evans’s cheeky chappie persona. Of course, the pair shamelessly play up the UK-US rivalry (you say bumper, I say fender; you say boot, I say etc), Le Blanc acting bemused at strange British customs, Evans boyishly lapping up iconic American culture. Both fill the bill for the show’s demographic: car-crazy blokes who have crashed or are about to crash through the fiftysomething bollard.
First up is a Top Gun-style muscle car challenge at an Air Force base in Nevada, Evans driving a Dodge Viper and German racing driver Sabine Schmitz driving a Chevy Corvette. Wow, look at the Brits’ TV licence money go - no expense spared on this adrenaline-fueled cinematic opener. That’s it - I’m strapped in for the ride now - too late to bail out.
Next up is a road trip to Blackpool in two rickety Robin Rialtos, one painted with a Union Jack, the other with the Stars and Stripes; these three-wheeled oddies don’t go very fast, but it gives time for a little chemistry between our two presenters to properly spark. And it’s bonkers – if you’ve ever wondered which was better at pulling an ice-cream van out of the sand at Blackpool beach or rescuing a man in drag, a US army jeep or a British army Land Rover, you’ve finally got your answer.
Le Blanc comes into his own in another beautifully filmed segment (kerching!) in Morocco, where he puts an Ariel Nomad offroad vehicle through its paces, pursued by paparazzi on a motorcycle, in a motorised paraglider and using a camera drone. “This isn’t offroading - this is low-level flying!” he quips. Even at high-speed over some very bumpy terrain, Le Blanc’s laid-back comic timing is still there.
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and film star Jesse Eisenberg are the first up in the newly revamped segment Star in a Rallycross Car - no prizes for guessing who came first, the Ferrari-driving, foul-mouthed kitchen-rage bunny or the bicycle-riding, geekoid star of The Social Network.
So, do Evans and Le Blanc have what it takes to keep this show on the road for another 20-plus series? Okay, they aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel here, but at least they’re putting their own spin on a well-worn format.