Surely it’s time to once again roll up the sleeves, perch a foot on the bumper and actually REVIEW a car
The Rolls-Royce and Bentley of car review shows on TV are of course The Grand Tour and Top Gear. Except that they’re not. Not anymore.
At the end of arguably one of its best series yet, Jeremy Clarkson on The Grand Tour announced that it was… well not quite the last show, but the last show in its current format.
Henceforth there would only be the spectacular international specials – featuring the three haggard humans adventuring across the most far flung parts of the world in some form of wheeled contraption or other. So there will be no more tent, no bonhomie interplay with a studio audience, no meandering down Conversation Street, no edge-of-grip track times to record and thus it follows, no actual car reviews.
And to be fair, the big films were really the show-stoppers of the series now. As viewers we tolerated the rest of it to get to these best bits – like some sort of terrible fetish porn. It’s clearly where the budgets had been spent. It’s obviously where the most thought and creativity had been dedicated.
If you consider that Clarkson and Co have been reviewing cars since before a good proportion of people reading this were actually born, you can’t blame them for no longer wanting to measure luggage space, judge rear legroom and examine fuel consumption – and they’re from a time before emissions were anything other than fancy farts.
Frankly myself and most fans are probably okay with the move. And besides we have that BBC show to aid and inform us in our car-buying decisions don’t we?
No not really. From Chris Evans to Chris Harris – individual egos have taken over the show in succession and tried to shoehorn it into their own unique visions of what Top Gear should be. The former tried to turn it into ‘Don’t Forget Your Key Fob’ with cars being almost incidental amongst the madcap mayhem – mostly him throwing up and falling out with his co-stars.
And then we’ve got Chris Harris ‘The Driving God’ and doesn’t he want you to know it? He has singlehandedly made the whole point of that genius creation, The Stig, utterly redundant and humiliated every co-host and guest into bowing down before his superior car knowledge and prowess behind the wheel.
Yes he’s a real actual car journalist, yes he’s probably the most credible person on the show since its revamp, but no, even he’s not doing the car review genre true justice.
Not yet that old, for some reason he’s already assumed a crusty old git persona of someone who’s long-ago made up his mind about what cars, and kind of cars, he does and does not like, and will countenance no dissent.
A racer at heart, all he wants to do is race everything and everybody and he MUST win. Undeniable is his talent and ability to do so.
Also undeniable is that both the above descriptions could be applied to Clarkson-era Top Gear too. But given that he was the innovator who reinvented the BBC programme into an entertainment show built around him, any imitation that followed would inevitably be contrived and counterfeit.
I had to seek forgiveness from myself for forcing me to watch each episode of the last series of Top Gear, that’s how trying an endurance it had become. In a desperate bid to recover ratings and significance, the show is set to slightly reinvent itself yet again, with two new co-hosts who will soon ponder why they ever bothered to learn to drive, being that they are so abysmal at it, which will become evident to them in very short order, thanks to Harris.
Frankly they’re not credible as Top Gear hosts – one a comedian and the other a former Cricket Captain – so I can’t help but believe it will feel more like ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of Top Gear’ in the next series, if I’m forced to watch it, which I probably will be, by me.
So at least we have Fifth Gear – the Top Gear old-skoolers – except that that’s not really a thing anymore. No, really not really.
A recent lament by an industry PR Head that there were no shows to put their cars on TV anymore, underscored the problem.
There is, after all no lack of car shows on TV. In fact it would seem there is an endless appetite for automotive small box viewing when you consider Wheeler Dealer (a standard-setter itself), Car SOS (truly noble and heart-warning stuff) and tons of copycats like Modern Wheels and Classic Steals, You Buy it and I’ll Break it, Let’s Fix It and Flip It etc… Okay I made the last two up, but you get the gist.
Something common among these is their devotion to older and classic cars which admittedly I lap up with the thirst of an old V8 that’s overheated and busted its radiator. And which must also strike a chord with whole generation of car fans clinging onto their traditional telly.
That in itself is telling, as all the actual new car content giving you usable information and, what’s this… reviews… yes actual car reviews, are on YouTube.
That’s where all the best car review content lives – that’s where you’ll find MY car reviews and of course what could possibly be better than those?! Yet as awesome as I am at it, I’ll also tip my hat to the likes of Jonny Lieberman, Jason Cammisa, Doug DeMuro, Matt Farah, and on this side of the Atlantic, Harry Metcalf and Mat Watson.
It’s got to be noted, however, that most of the other UK YouTube car reviews seem to be stuck in an endless loop of emulating Top Gear-style reviews – that is Top Gear circa 1981. Serious, earnest, professional, restrained, and frankly rather dreary. Which I guess kind of brings us full circle, but not before I twist the dagger in a little further, because whilst the style maybe old and staid, the presenters themselves are generally young and (incidentally) mostly white males.
Which if I wasn’t a motoring expert myself, frequently being called upon and happy to dispense car-buying advice to followers across various platforms, would otherwise leave me with no one to relate too should I too be seeking expert car advice. There’s a gaping, glaring, chapati-sized demographic hole waiting to be plugged I’d wager.
Anyway, having gone around the circuit, and curried a tangent, now to bring this discourse back to the start-finish line, the point is that there is presently an even bigger empty space residing on our precious television feeds – be it terrestrial or on-demand.
There doesn’t appear to be any car show on TV that solely serves consumers’ need to know, quite simply, if a car is any good or not, if it will suit them, and if they should buy it. This niche desperately awaits replenishing and refreshing in the context of a televisual environment. For which, having done some TV myself, I humbly and selflessly put myself forward of course! Expecting the phone to ring in 3… 2… 1…