It is almost that time again. June
12 26th the 17th season of Top Gear UK starts. The marketing gurus at the BBC have finally decided to run the same season in the USA on BBC America as in the UK. Last season this meant a 2 week lag time, but considering the editing needed that was pretty good. Now I’m seeing daily posts on my Facebook feed reminding me that it is coming back with some big social media campaign and we’re only a week away.
I am somewhat jaded about this season though, because of a lot of controversy that has surrounded the show and the presenters in the off-season. I have also been watching this show for far longer than most people (since 2004) and think it has been some of the best TV ever created. One thing should be clear about this list, I love Top Gear and have been telling everyone about it for the last seven years, so these issues may be different than the way you feel about the show not having a long history with it. Some of my concerns to think about before you set your DVR/TIVO to record the season and commit yourself to 10+ hours of TV:
1. Jeremy Clarkson is an arse. We all know this, and he amplifies the rudeness of his character for laughs most of the time even if it isn’t his real personality. There is also a charismatic charm there, but he seems a whole lot less charming lately. There have been reports about evidence linking him to dating a female crew member on the Top Gear MPH Tours (he is married). He even wrote about it in a printed piece in 2010 thinking nobody would get it. Well this whole issue kinda spoils it for most women fans of Top Gear. Most women find a charming guy that is married kinda interesting but a charming cheat isn’t going to work out for anyone. The mystique is lost. This whole thing was clumsy and a mess for someone that has been grooming his career for decades. The only twist I can think of with this story is to possibly meet Chelsea Handler if he does decide to get a divorce. With his wife having been his long time manager, this whole issue has put Top Gear in a precarious position knowing they still have to work together.
2. Richard & James have had as many TV series going as Jeremy made in the last 25 years. Therefore, I think they’re stretched a bit thin. I also think they’re both losing the newness of the experience that create the genuine reactions on camera that really resonated with the audience. (if you’ve seen one Bugatti, you’ve seen them all) Jeremy entertains but the people relate to James and Richard. But with so many super cars of their own now, is this really exciting anymore? I kinds feel like they need some time off to get back to their roots of why they are not Tim Allen or Jay Leno and why that made them great presenters.
3. They’ve possibly run out of new things to do. The show has even used some of my anonymously posted ideas (Bonneville salt flats) Possibly because they thought of them too. But if I’m no pro are they scraping the bottom of the barrel? I do think they have created some of the best TV in history, but that is such a high mark to meet again and again. I foresee cross promotion coming with all Top Gear country teams (UK, USA, AUS, RUS, CH) pitted against each other in some kind of epic battle of automotive wonder, with subtitles of course. I think they need to start looking further from car entertainment ideas and into other types of shows/experiences and bring the cars into them in order to keep the originality high. The USA Show has a lot of possibility because it is new, and I am almost more excited about their prospects than the UK team right now.
4. There are BBC budget cuts. And it is hard to coordinate script writers, the best cameramen & editors on the planet and all the special effects and projects that go into the show on a smaller budget. Those sweeping helecopter shots aren’t cheap and all the automakers use them in their commercials now too. Heck Jeremy Clarkson may have to start doing his own driving. (check the windows when they show exterior shots of the car, grayed out, it’s not the rainy weather either).
5. And last but not least, They’ve run out of tricks. The comment from Ben Collins about wearing a curly wig to do Jeremy’s power slides hit me hard. I know Jeremy Clarkson is good at managing Top Gear because he has done many different shows on UK TV over the last 25 years. Heck, you’ve looked up the Motorworld show? Far less interesting, and in one he rides a motorcycle (very well btw) around the track at the F1 race in Monaco. Jeremy has had a lot of time to figure things out and evolve into what Top Gear has become. But I think the word is out about how pre-planned and manipulated things are to get them on camera and ultimately what seems like reality but is not. I’m not sure people are going to be so fiercely loyal to a show that manipulates things so heavily and has abandoned the accidental funny that used to happen. Some people might call this jumping the shark.
The one thing that Top Gear UK has in its favor is that there is rarely if ever any good TV on in the summer in the USA. True, people are outside and not in their living rooms as much in the evenings while it is warm outside, but the DVR saves you while most shows are off season and you don’t have to compete for an audience.
So, will you still be watching? I want to but I’m a bit scared it won’t be like it used to be.