I’m a great fan of Top Gear, but its India Special in 2011 was embarrassing to sit through. Happily, this year, it seems Andy Wilman and his team have redeemed themselves.
(Just so you know, I’m not going to review every Top Gear episode, but I had strong enough opinions of this episode to warrant a My Thoughts blog.)
The first episode of this new, eighteenth series of Top Gear was to be, for many once-loyal fans (myself included), a make-or-break episode. Cock it up, and we’d lose interest and leave it to suffer a plunge in ratings.
The producers (to whom the TG brand is worth millions) and presenters knew this very real threat. Though part of a joke, Jeremy Clarkson made no secret of the controversy that’s followed the disastrous Christmas India special, opening the show in simple terms: “Now, even though this programme has taken a terrible battering in the newspapers in recent weeks, we have made every effort we possibly can to make sure this series is unaffected.”
Indeed, the preview tape looked similar to those of the old series, with beautiful photography, great co-presenter chemistry, and a wide range of upcoming films included. But as the first episode progressed, it became obvious that it was not all ‘same old same old’. In addition to the addition of a plinth in the studio for the Hammerhead-i Eagle Thrust from Series 14, there were far greater changes in programme feel.
In recent series (and most noticeably in that Christmas 2011 episode), the style of the main films has felt hideously patronising, where it seemed we were meant to fall for the blatantly-staged, unfunny ‘accidents’ (many of which, like the crude ‘Eat English Muff‘ and ‘Sh IT For Your Company‘ train stunts, were merely repeats of virtually identical stunts from previous series).
Tonight, the nation’s three favourite motorheads return to our screens, following an embarrassingly weak (and “offensive”) Christmas special from India. The show – now ten years old and in its eighteenth series – is well-known for its controversy, but from what I’ve seen of the new series, it’s likely to be a little more tame.
Personally, I think the format’s growing tired (as all formats do), but I’m delighted for the BBC that it’s made so much money abroad – which ultimately lowers licence fees, thanks to BBC Worldwide’s return of profits to programming.
“Hello virtual audience and welcome back for a new series of Top Gear. We kick off in this one with a supercar drive across Italy. At this point, people who think they’re funny say ‘It’s a rotten job, but somebody’s got to do it.’ Well I’d like to say it’s a great job, I’m really grateful for the opportunity to do it. Thank you for supporting the programme and making it possible for me. And if it all ends tomorrow, I’ll look back on it and think ‘That was great’ and then go and do something worthwhile like be a teacher.”
— James May, in a web-clip about the upcoming new series of Top Gear, 25 January 2012
Top Gear returns to BBC 2 at 8:00pm tonight (29 January 2012).