Although it seems like it has only just begun, series 20 of Top Gear concluded with the 6th episode on Sunday night. Like all five reviews previous, contains spoilers below.
Top Gear Series 20, Episode 6 – UK Air Date 4th August 2013
Car Review Range Rover Sport
There have been a few times during this series when I have questioned whether any of the three presenters on Top Gear actually care about doing actual car journalism. But, fortunately, Richard Hammond still seems able to remember what a car programme is meant to be about. The cars.
His review of the Range Rover Sport was exactly what Top Gear should be striving to do. A good introduction of what’s new, a detailed and enlightening demonstration of its off-road abilities and a fun test of its sporting prowess.To me this was exactly what you should be able to expect from a motoring related show.
Hammond somehow managed to avoid have any overtly scripted segments wedged into his review, making the whole thing seem a lot more logical. Yes there were the usual jokes about The Stig, but they made sense in context and didn’t detract from the Range Rover Sport as the centrepiece.
In explaining the advancements in the Range Rover Sport’s off-road technology, they were no stupid analogies just a clear demonstration of what it could do in the mud. Yes he caught the sill at one point, although that didn’t seem staged but simply a genuine mistake.
Of all the features in this series of Top Gear, this one perhaps satisfied and frustrated me the most. Satisfying in the shape of TG, or Hammond at least, being able to remember what a car show is about. Frustrating in the sense that it represents a small minority in the 6 hours of season 20.
Back in the studio, some scripted “banter” between Hammond and Clarkson almost threatened to undo it all, but I’d already made up my mind by then.
Rating A +
As ever, The News segment resorted to jokes about Highways Agency “Traffic Wombles” and the comical size of Eric Pickles’ face. It left me with a feeling of why does everything have to be dumbed down for the lowest common denominator?
Rating D –
Feature New Bus for London
Looking back on my notes for this segment, I’ve actually written NBFL-FFS. The first part stands for “New Bus for London” and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions (or research) about what the second part stands for.
On some premise that the NBFL could be a better alternative to a super car, James May took the bus on a road test. Naturally, this involved May playing his role of “James May, incompetent buffoon” to painful effect, such as not being able to operate the NBFL initially.
I could already predict what scenes would happen in the feature: a narrow street, and three-point turn, and damage to another vehicle/object. If Top Gear bingo involved money I’d have been quids in, because all three turned up in fairly quick succession. I didn’t predict seeing a bus take to a track-day though; or see the point.
I actually looked on Twitter during this bit and found a scarily large amount of people finding it funny. But then I realised none of them were people with any actual interest in cars which, naturally, makes sense. Unlike the feature itself. Urgh.
Star in a Reasonably Priced Car Mark Webber
As someone who has already announced his forthcoming departure from his current employer, you would have hoped Mark Webber might have decided to cut loose on Top Gear. The truth was he just looked pretty bored being there whilst he spouted corporate nonsense. Not quite what I imagined based on some of his previous interviews; perhaps it was cunningly edited.
He did get a jab in at current Red Bull teammate Vettel when provoked, but even dissing the person who has tormented him for the past three seasons seemed handwork. On track Webber set the second fastest lap, just behind Lewis Hamilton and ahead of Sebastian. I expect the Top Gear office received a phone call from a certain German’s agent fairly soon afterwards.
Rating C +
Car Review Jaguar F-Type
The Jaguar F-Type is one of the most exciting cars of 2013, along with being absolutely stunning to look at, whilst sounding epic. It makes you wonder just why Top Gear decided to wait until the last episode of the series to include it, though that would be explained by the next segment.
It was a fairly average review from Clarkson for me at least, having seen and read pretty much everything noted several months earlier in print and online media. For the non-car minded viewer it was probably all you could ask for, including some trademark Jezza humour demonstrating how small the F-Type’s boot capacity is with a spare wheel in place. Not bad, just a little late to the party.
Rating B –
Grand Finale Stuff manufactured in Great Britain
To round off a clearly British themed episode – surely more apt for 12 months ago – the team decided to assemble everything made in the UK in relation to the automotive industry. From the more obvious Morgan and Noble sportscars, British built Honda, Nissan and Toyota models to more obscure Caterpillar dumper trucks they were all lined up on the Mall in London.
Formula 1 cars were seen driving through the streets of Milton Keynes – something which had caused excitement on Twitter – to make their way towards the capital. It was all quite impressive and made for quite a sight to display just what Britain still makes. My only questions were a) why? and b) was this funded by UK Trade & Investment? Cynical, perhaps, but it did have a very jingoistic flavour to it all.
BBC2’s scheduling of Das Auto immediately afterwards caused some consternation, as it essentially ripped apart the history of the British car industry to prove how efficient the Germans were. Oops.
Feature Rating B –
Overall Rating C
Episode 6 captured in a microcosm everything right and wrong with the current format of Top Gear and the audience it chases. We had an excellent car review, followed by pointless staged humour and an OTT ending that served no real purpose. In short that has been a metaphor for the entire series; occasional glimpses of brilliance, ruined by dumbing everything down in a race to the bottom.
I could always not watch it. But that would deprive me of those few exceptional moments when you remember just what the show could actually achieve if it tried. Series 20 left me feeling apathetic towards TG; knowing that it won’t change anytime soon, but keeping the hope alive regardless.
Season rating C + Signs of promise, but could do better.