Top Gear Finds Its Chemistry Again
The new season of BBC America’s Top Gear will debut on Sunday, July 14. With the last few seasons as a reference point, the idea of a new season of the show may have lost its luster for some. However, season 27 has some new hosts and is bringing back one of the best car reviewers in the business for another go, Chris Harris.
I had a chance to screen a few episodes of the new season and then have a quick chat with Chris before the premiere.
For those who don’t know, Harris will be joined by Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff and Paddy McGinness. Freddie isn’t largely known in the states, and neither is Paddy, but they’re both huge stars in the UK.
Freddie was is a former cricketer and was one of the best players in the game in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, he’s made a name for himself in broadcasting. Paddy is a well-known comedian, actor, and television personality. Together they bring a rough-and-tumble sense of humor to the show and are a nice complement to Chris.
The Right Group
“It’s fantastic fun,” Chris told me over the phone. “You can’t fake what we’re doing.” He went on to say that he’s been a fan of both Freddie and Paddy for a while now. “I’m in a wonderful position of getting to work with two people who I think are great.”
Chris did say he had to get used to the banter a bit and be able to hit back with quick lines to the other two hosts of the show. “Last year, I’d have asked him for his autograph,” Chris said when speaking of Freddie.
The banter is what helps make this season special. The last season featured Chris Harris, Matt Leblanc, and Rory Reid. It was a notable step in the right direction. However, the addition of Freddie and Paddy brings back a level of humor that hasn’t been with the show since the departure of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond.
You can tell the three like each other, but they also love embarrassing each other and competing with each other. It’s a good dynamic and a lot of fun to watch. “I think as a team, we’re really strong,” Chris said.
More Than Just a Car Show
Chris also discussed the need to reach a wider audience with the show. He said it can’t just be a car show anymore. It’s about entertaining a wide audience, and these new hosts help do that. “I think we have a really good balance of knowledge, entertainment, fun—just joy really.”
Usually, when I hear something like that I roll my eyes, but having screened a few of the episodes early, I can genuinely say Chris is right. The new season of Top Gear is just enjoyable. That’s not to say it’s not without a few cringe-worthy moments. There are some stumbles over lines in front of the studio audience and some of the banter borders on outright bullying, but it feels like nobody is taking anyone too seriously, which is exactly what the series needed.
It’s a silly car show, and it feels fun and unguarded again in a way it hasn’t recently. That’s what makes this season worth watching.
Chris talked a little bit with me about the process. He said that it’s largely off the cuff. While the in-studio and in front of an audience portion of the show is at least partially scripted, the drives the team does and a lot of the challenges are not.
“So, we start with an outline,” Chris said. “You have to have an idea of what you want to do and what you want to achieve, but nothing is really scripted. The producer’s job is to find extraordinary locations, create things to do, and then throw us into the mix.”
Plenty of Amazing Cars
While the show is definitely trying to branch out and be appealing to more people, don’t for a second think that cars aren’t the focus of the show. The hosts drive some of the best and worst cars imaginable. In the first episode, they all buy similar cars to the first ones they purchased and go on a massive road trip through Ethiopia.
There’s plenty of fun track stuff, too. Chris takes the helm of the supercars and hypercars most of the time, driving everything from the Ferrari 488 Pista and McLaren 600LT to the Tesla Model 3 and the Dallara Stradale among many others. It’s fantastic to have him doing his own thing in these cars.
When I asked him about these test drives, he said he thinks many of the Top Gear test drives will be “a bit straighter now.” He said some of the older tests in previous seasons tried to be more humorous because they thought they needed that. Now they can do longer and more focused segments on specific cars. “The show can carry that,” he said. “They’re a bit more like the stuff I used to do on the Internet.”
The bottom line for the show is it will continue being what people have come to expect from Top Gear, but now it’s what it should have been since its three well-known hosts left and went to Amazon. Is it perfect? No, far from it. But it’s a lot of fun, and there are now three hosts who have some genuine chemistry on screen and who all seem do enjoy doing ridiculous things in cars.