Weekend Edition: A Top Gear Prologue

So, after the daytime soap opera that was the so-called fracas, or #steakgate, BBC Top Gear isn’t going to be the way it was, with Jeremy Clarkson having to find fresher pastures on which to perform donuts.
Then again, it hasn’t been the way it was for a while, has it? The past few seasons, or even years, have been filled with painfully sub-par content, compared to the earlier, simpler times. As they wanted to woo people who rated slapstick japes and obviously scripted shenanigans over plain old petrolhead banter, the show became The Three Vaguely Automotive-Related Stooges. Over at FinalGear.com, every freshly aired episode is eagerly dissected and discussed and rated, and in the recent years I found it increasingly difficult to give the episodes any of the higher blobs. FinalGear itself had to face a DMCA take-down notice only recently, and ended up retiring the main site, holding on to the forums that had become a thing in their own respect. It only befits that a few months later Top Gear itself faced turmoil, and it’s not really clear if there will be anything worth torrenting anymore.
It never really pays to bite the hand of an enormous fansite, but with Clarkson gone and the two remaining chums apparently honoring the pact of camaraderie, I have sizable doubts whether I would even want to be a fan of Top Gear anymore. It’s funny, the show and the paper version were the things that drove me to FinalGear to begin with, and that was the place where I started dabbling with the early stages of automotive journalism. Fast forward a few years and I ended up at Hooniverse. These days, I write about four-to-18-wheeled things for a living. And it all began with buying the April 1998 issue of Top Gear Magazine, the one with a Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph on the cover.

But of course, it’s all too easy to point fingers and make remarks of “better times”. It’s like with MAD Magazine, that’s spent decades becoming progressively worse, to the extent it’s a running joke within the publication, or with The Simpsons that will be here in 2090 by the looks of things. What, then, did I think were the best moments of BBC Top Gear? This weekend, I’ll post the stuff I liked, challenges, reviews, road trips, the golden moments. You know, before the show jumped the steak.

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  1. Matt Reynolds Avatar
    Matt Reynolds

    For me, the Vietnam special was the pinnacle of Top Gear. After I watched that, I felt like they had done it all. Since then, I’ve been happy to be wrong a few times but it’s been increasingly cringe worthy.

  2. Maymar Avatar

    I’m kind of coming from a similar perspective. Granted, I’ve been perfectly happy to keep watching, but at the same time, it’s been getting tired (I still thought the Australia trip from this season was a solid low-key episode though).
    Whether Clarkson, Hammond, and May just take a several-year break to regroup, or we find a new set of voices (so long as they have chemistry), it’d be nice for Top Gear to come back in a new form, eventually, when it doesn’t have the heavy expectation of a billion people on it.

    1. GianniBu Avatar

      My guess is that Rupert Murdock picks up the 3 amigos and launches a Top Gear-like show on Sky. TG itself is rebooted to a 5th gear-like format and is moderately successful for a couple of years

      1. Manic_King Avatar

        Boss of Sky has ruled Sky out from competition. But yeah, old Rupert is a fan of JC.
        Currently seems that if there’s no way back to BBC through some deal then maybe Netflix will be the best bet for the 4 guys, Netflix has $3,4b budget for their own production and they need global stars who are not film actors. Netflix also is independent from ad revenue so guys can say what ever they want about cars.
        There’s also this: Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales @jimmy_wales· Mar 20
        “Jeremy Clarkson will start his own show syndicated worldwide and own the rights and make a billion dollars. You heard it here first.” – totally possible IMHO.

    2. Eric Rucker Avatar

      Honestly, I think Hammond and May could’ve carried a Top Gear with a new third host, but at least May doesn’t want to.
      My fear is that the BBC will try to relaunch Top Gear with the same format, but new hosts, and they’ll inevitably end up with the American version. Or, they’ll go too far into Serious Business and end up with a MotorWeek-grade snoozefest. Either of those extremes would be a horrible end to Top Gear, and I hope they try a new format with any reboot (and, yes, the hosts need to have chemistry). And, 2016 is probably way too soon to try it.

  3. Sjalabais Avatar

    I actually got tired of watching Top Gear. Not sure which season was the last I enjoyed, but the America special was great. Stereotype slapstick with the cars in focus. Also: Racing busses or the truck challenge; with the truckers-and-prostitutes-joke that was a bit too much already. At one point, the entire show became dominated by this or that supercar. No relevance to real life, and, speaking for myself, why should I care about cars priced like houses?

    1. Douglass King Avatar
      Douglass King

      “…the entire show became dominated by this or that supercar. No relevance
      to real life, and, speaking for myself, why should I care about cars
      priced like houses?” The reports on “real life” vehicles, as you call them, are thick on the ground and you can go to any of their dealers and touch/drive them. The vehicles we need to have reviewed for us are the interesting ones at the extreme end. I’m interested in vehicles and that includes the ones “priced like houses”.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        The mix was good. Ordinary cars, beaters, supercars. A supercar challenge for 10000£ each. Some track action. But what I’ve seen of late episodes is way too dominated by high end cars – for my taste. Maybe we just have to agree to disagree, since Top Gear obviously was a lot of different things to different people anyway…

  4. David Avatar

    I was a rabid Top Gear fan for years. Still enjoy it, when I happen to catch an episode. I was a real gearhead back in high school, but college and career have taken precedence in the years (ok, decades) since. Top Gear reawakened that love of cars for me. Plus, it was hilarious.
    But a lot of what I enjoyed about the show – the outsize personalities, road tests of supercars I can only dream of, the celebration of the odd and even outright awful of the automotive world, and the willingness to try crazy stuff with a “How hard could it be?” attitude – I can now get without the show. I get it here, every day. And, even better, I can feel like I’m a participant instead of a merely passive observer.
    If Top Gear was a car, it would be like the latest generation MINI – carefully designed, competent to interesting, evoking a groundbreaking past, while in reality being a bloated, overly complex version of its former self. Hooniverse, on the other hand, is like so many of the cars it profiles. The recent 4-cylinder 5-speed Mercury Comet article comes to mind: on a budget, unexpected, eliciting many wtf reactions, but… kind of brilliant.

  5. Manic_King Avatar

    Some of their own views regarding best specials, moments, cars from this Q&A session in Australia:

    1. Ron Stimbert Avatar
      Ron Stimbert

      That video was great, and had me more excited for a new series than I have been in a long time.

  6. Andrew_theS2kBore Avatar

    I would say Top Gear has been more hit-or-miss of late. There have been some major lows (pretty much all the specials since the 3 Wise Men/Supercars in America doubleheader, Hammond on the mountain, the Ukraine trip) but for every major low there’s been some incredible high points that match anything they did earlier in the run (Spanish convertible road trip, Sesto Elemento, crossovers for caravans, Disco Volante review, James drives the London Bus).
    And then there are things they simply couldn’t have done before the show was famous, like the hatchbacks around Monaco- for me, as an F1 nerd and trackday enthusiast, that was one of the most spine-tingling moments of television ever (closely followed by the Aventador/M600/Mclaren around Imola).

  7. Ron Stimbert Avatar
    Ron Stimbert

    The issue was that the better times don’t really exist with Top Gear, the last “motorsport” (where Hammond goes nuts with heavy equipment or taxis or whatnot) was just as good as the first.
    I mean, literally just as good. It was the same thing. The first was original and amazing, the second was fun and 3-10 or however many there have been since bring nothing new to the table.
    The first Africa special was so original I couldn’t believe how excited I was at the end of it when it aired. It was mind-blowingly good television, and I mean that. Of course it wasn’t scripted, because they had no idea what they were doing or making and there was no script to follow. It was Mad Max and documentary and three amigos all at the same time.
    After that,we now have a “formula”, and while Vietnam was great the more of them that were made, the more the “script” had to be followed and the less fun it was.
    This goes for the multi-vehicle races, the SIARPC (though to be honest it really depended on the guest), the introduction of a new SIARPC, the challenges and any of the things that turned into “formula”,
    Every episode that started with an old concept was going to be at least slightly boring, or maybe totally boring… After a certain amount of time that was every episode in a series.

  8. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    I think J, J and R are probably, themselves, frustrated by what Top Gear has become. I’d like to know exactly how much influence and control they have over the show aside from the editorial content in itself.
    Are the producers car enthusiasts? Do the producers (who look frighteningly young) understand why the show used to be not just loved, but revered?
    Some of the best Top Gear moments were when the team were at their most introspective. JC reminiscing about his late-night 928 dash to see his Dad one last time, the AMG CLK 55 Black edition review which was nearly devoid of talk, in which he speculated on the demise of the supercar? The visit to the closed TVR factory? Grown men, like me, wept.
    It was this compassionate edge which took Top Gear far beyond the remit of a “car show” and made it a celebration of all things wheeled. It was this foundation which should have been built on.
    Perhaps chasing the primetime audience was the wrong idea. If Top Gear had lived in a later slot where it was better able to express itself it would have been less burdened by the need to placate the politically sensitive. It would have been in a far less exposed position than with little Tommy watching, and reportage of controvercy sells newspapers. Everything TG said and did was media dynamite.
    The production values in the car reviews were genuinely staggering and the individual inputs of J, J and R were always passionate, usually accurate and often heartfelt. These factors alone were all that should have been necessary to retain a devoted following.
    Blame needs to be apportioned to whoever decided that the above was not enough. Top Gear simply didn’t need to try quite so hard to impress as later series saw it doing. Its innate qualities should have been preserved undiluted. Shock and Awe should be left for a different battlefield.