It’s all riding on you, Matt LeBlanc! Here’s how to save Top Gear
Sunday’s new run of Top Gear will enjoy a reception the show hasn’t received for many years: none at all. Gone is the rampant speculation about how badly Chris Evans will mess things up. Gone is the anticipation about what awful guff Jeremy Clarkson will spout about Spaniards. This new series has had no hype, no build-up whatsoever. It’s less being debuted than carelessly slapped in front of us like a dead fish.
But this lack of interest is an opportunity. Without the din of reinvention drowning them out, and with ratings surely tanking, Top Gear finally has the chance to slowly and surely rebuild a voice of its own. With everyone distracted by last year’s implosion and the gaudiness of The Grand Tour, Top Gear can work on its fundamentals in relative peace. If I were Matt LeBlanc, here’s how I’d approach it.
If one thing characterised the Evans-fronted Top Gear, it was excitement. Endless, shrieking excitement about every single last thing. It was like watching Top Gear being presented by a tiny witch trapped inside a metal dustbin. It was like watching Top Gear being presented by 15 Richard Hammonds. At least with Clarkson, you knew he’d had an entire life of crushing disappointment to deal with, which prevented him from ever really getting too enthusiastic about anything. This is the main thing LeBlanc must remember: Top Gear is not a kids’ TV show.
But, you know, some excitement
Now, see, I’m already regretting that last entry, because I’ve watched LeBlanc in other things. And left to his own devices, my suspicion is that he’s naturally about as enthusiastic as a wedge of bogwood. Admittedly this year he’s surrounded by some nerdily excitable younger hosts (Rory Reid, Chris Harris), which might gee him up, but a little razzle dazzle here and there never hurt anyone, Matt.
Develop some inter-host chemistry
This is where the last series of Top Gear fell short. Nobody watches The Grand Tour for the cars; they watch because they want to see Clarkson, Hammond and May muck around. Last year’s Top Gear was The Chris Evans Show, and all the hosts seemed to operate with antibacterial demilitarised zones between them. Since LeBlanc is the only genuinely recognisable face in the lineup now, it falls to him to kickstart a chemistry with the other two. No pressure, but the fate of the entire show rests on this.
Don’t just copy The Grand Tour
That said, he shouldn’t rotely mimic the relationship between Clarkson, Hammond and May. That relationship feels natural because it’s been organically aged over a decade and a half. The key to Top Gear’s success is how well it finds its own rhythm. Certainly, the mix of hosts at the moment – the Hollywood bigshot, the car bore and the child – feels like it could be fruitful on its own terms. We’ll just have to see how fruitful.
Don’t moor yourself on a blueprint
The downfall of every single series of Top Gear – and The Grand Tour – has been how rigidly it has clung to formula. Every week they’ve seemed determined to play all the same notes in exactly the same order, and driven many promising segments into the ground as a result. Star in a Reasonably Priced Car would be much more tolerable if it only happened every few weeks, for example; and Celebrity Brain Crash if it happened no more than once. Yes, it’s early days, but have the confidence to wear the format loosely, Matt. It could pay off enormously.