The BBC is celebrating its 100th year in 2022 and it feels like Top gear (BBC One) at least 250 of them already exist. When the sedan, the stagecoach, the penny farthing and the very first combustion engine needed a test drive, you just know there were three joshing dudes who traded frathouse bantz and robbed like billio for the donkey or the daguerreotype.
“WOAAAHHH!” they will have screamed like some face planted in a pond or off a cliff. “DO YOU SEE THAT OR WHAT?!? MAAT!” Perhaps Ye Stig was present in a topper. And a whooping claque gathered around to huzzah their scripted repartee.
Anyway, it’s back. I won’t claim to be a lapsed devotee, but long after the departure of what Fleetwood Mac scholars would call the classic lineup, there now seems to be a charisma void at the heart of the brand.
This is not to denigrate Freddie (né Andrew) Flintoff, whose documentaries about depression and bulimia revealed someone comfortable with quiet vulnerability. But he’s been migrating skillfully around the noisy formats for years and has little sense that his heart is in cars. On the other side of the track is Chris Harris who can reach high speeds but is not an artist. Rounding out the current trinity is Paddy McGuinness, essentially a foghorn with a driver’s license.
This week they were in Florida taking part in some crazy races. Do I need to tell you about the cars? No, I don’t think I do. Nor the alligators. They drove around in a gas-guzzling RV. A dash-mounted camera captured every Socratic hilarity. They got stuck in the mud. Then Harris sprained his ankle and completed the show on crutches. It’s like Top Gear can’t help but be meta-critical of itself.
It’s really awful, isn’t it? Sadly, there’s no way to improve on what was once a magazine show about cars by, say, including women or taking a responsible stance on global warming without what it is that ensures its puzzling popularity is fatal. to hybridize. Maybe they can all go farming. Apparently that works.