In perhaps the most anticipated relaunch of a television programme since Doctor Who returned in 2005 another global BBC brand returned to our screens last night. The strategy was clear from the outset, replicate the format of the previous show but with new presenters. Unfortunately the team of seven was largely absent with Sabine Schmitz only making a cameo and the limelight being taken by Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc. Evans is clearly excited to be given the opportunity to present the show but burdened with the pressure and responsibility of the relaunch couldn’t find the balance between addressing the studio audience and the viewers at home, resulting in some very shouty delivery. Matt Le Blanc is the star although he should clearly have opened with a “how you doing?” The American was far more natural and even though known as an actor he appeared more than comfortable in the role of presenter. During his films, which as usual were gloriously shot, for this first episode Le Blanc is knowledgeable and engaging, managing to grasp the dry sense of humour familiar to a British audience.
All the boxes were ticked to try and present the show as the same which had been so successful before. “All we know is he’s called the Stig”, a Top Gear road trip with unreliable vehicles and a series of challenges for the presenters. The only real change, besides the audience on the balcony, was to the ‘star in the reasonably priced car’ which now featured a rally cross section to the lap. The Ramsey and Eissenberg segment also suffered from pandering to the studio audience, alienating the viewers at home.
Whilst many I’m sure have been composing their derogatory reviews since Clarkson, Hammond and May departed, this new Top Gear has tried to stay faithful to the previous regime. Unsurprisingly it is not the same because the pieces of the jigsaw are now different and for people to criticise it because of that is unfair. Amazon will be providing the familiar format and the big test for the Top Gear brand will be it’s ability to attract and retain an audience. If the first episode is anything to go by Matt Le Blanc is certainly worth watching.