A new refreshed Top Gear?

I’m the world’s biggest Top Gear fan. Really. I’ve been to see it be filmed (and literally (bought the t-shirt). I was ecstatically happy when LugRadio was compared to it. I built an easy access version of the 2005 car survey. When people say: that Clarkson’s a smug git, or they complain that the show’s all about supercars, or that it glorifies speed, then I justify it to them. Because it’s brilliance. It is, quite simply, the only television programme I watch. Tonight’s show, the last episode of season 13, was in parts excellent. I laughed out loud a few times just hearing them talk. But, in a few places, it felt contrived. The segment where JC and James made an advert felt like scripted comedy, and not all that good scripted comedy either. Now, I know that a fair amount of TG is scripted, and I have no problem with it. The art that they’re masters of is scripting stuff that doesn’t sound scripted. I’ve been in hysterics at the news before now, especially the wizard’s sleeve joke. Or the carpets being nice in new Astons. And it’s not just the news — take the “back to the studio” thing, or Jeremy’s test of a Fiesta and the Corvette chase, or Car Sauna. It’s genius. But the things which look overtly scripted — tonight’s “make an ad” segment, setting the caravan on fire, even tonight’s Cool Wall segment with Hammond on the elevated platform — seem laboured and painful. And that makes me sad. Because I love the show. I’ve loved parts of this series as much as I’ve loved any of the others — the great train race, the Usain Bolt interview. I actually found myself thinking, for the first time ever: are they running out of ideas? If I may be permitted to make a comment which is like comparing the last piss I had to the wide, wide expanse of the whole Atlantic, this is why we stopped doing LugRadio, our fortnightly radio show. We felt we’d reached a point where we were having to strain to find new ideas. So we stopped doing it. So I’m sitting there, thinking: has Top Gear, my favourite programme in all of television history ever, the only programme I’ve really been dedicated to in 33 years (except Rainbow when I was about 4, according to my mum, but leave that aside), has Top Gear jumped the shark? And then the last segment played. Jeremy, driving the new V12 Aston Martin Vantage. He spoke very little initially, other than to say that the car was sublimely wonderful; the backdrop was the roar of the engine and images of it flashing past that were impressive looking even for Top Gear’s absurdly high standard of cinematography. And then he spoke about how cars like that are ending, how their day may have passed in a world that cares about economy over enjoyment and safety over frolics. It was an achingly poignant declaration, a swan-song for the supercar, for everything that makes Top Gear what it is. The V12 bellow continued as the credits rolled over more shots of the Aston eating up a winding country road. And I thought: is this the end for Top Gear as well? Have they been thinking: we’re running out of ideas? Did I just hear a eulogy for the programme that’s built around the beauty of the car, a beauty that Jeremy’s just said is itself coming to a forced and bitter end? Maybe I did, or maybe I’m reading too much into it. If they are coming back, I hope, I really hope, that they don’t feel tired of the show. I hope they can keep up the level of creativity and beauty and energy that makes it the best thing on television. It was incredibly, incredibly hard to stop doing LugRadio, but we looked at ourselves and thought: we don’t want to force ourselves to keep doing this and have people say “I wish they’d stopped before that one last season”. If the Top Gear team do feel like that and they do want to stop, then I raise a glass to them for making me happy for 13 series. More than one glass, actually. Guys, if you’re coming back, I hope you’re great. If you’re winding up, thankyou, thankyou for everything.

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