Pride cometh before a stall

Some say that it has an estimated worldwide audience of over 350 million people (insert Jeremy Clarkson style pause), and that it is shown in over 90 countries across the globe. All we know is that BBC2’s pokey motoring show, _Top Gear_, has dominated Sunday night television in its current format since 2002.

At the end of last month, another series came to an end – the 16th, but who, other than an autistic calculator residing in a garage forecourt, is counting? It is set to be remembered as the ‘Mexican-meets-short-man-meets-new-Stig’ one. And yet, despite the plethora of sumptuous new cars on exhibit, coupled with the increasingly risqué performance of its presenters, the fact remains that Top Gear has simply lost some of its edge. It has run out of petrol.

Now in its 10th year, you could arguably forgive the show for generating such a reaction: all things must mature, get old and die, and although this analogy explodes with all the vehemence of Charlie Sheen following a polite question when you consider most middle aged women who appear on our tele-boxes (have you seen Ann Robinson lately? Did she substitute her skin for cheesecake and then attempt to contain it within an overstretched balloon?) the fact remains that it’s starting to become tired.

It is hard to determine at what point things began to slip. The brand was undeniably damaged somewhat by the palaver leading up to and culminating in Ben Collins being unmasked as The Stig. Additional issues include the discovery that many of the more enjoyable discussions and stunts weren’t quite as spontaneous as the public had been led to believe, and it seems that the team are perhaps running out of stereotypes to exploit and tease.

Yet without any doubt, the main problem is the show’s agonizingly evident lack of variation. The challenges continue to stand out in the memory long after the conclusion of each episode-James May traveling to America to drive Nasa’s latest Space Exploration Vehicle was captivating broadcasting on numerous, multifaceted levels- but aside from these set-pieces, the show feels as though it is merely going through the motions and is becoming bloated and restricted.

By no means should this spell the end for what continues to be a largely engaging show. Top Gear provides a rare example of the success available when the right balance of entertaining, factual and emotionally poignant content is effectively combined. What those responsible for the production and development of the show must realise is that ‘freshness’ is just as important to survival in the modern television industry (see Last of the Summer Wine for further details).

This is a situation which the presenters themselves appear to be aware of. When introducing _Top Gear’s_ revamped magazine at the beginning of the year, Jeremy Clarkson commented: “Over on the other side of the office, where the television program is made, we are scaredy-cats. We know that we should evolve: introduce new features, do things differently”. He continued by stating that as each new series finishes they “think of all sorts of bold new ideas” for the show; “revolutionary new slots, and new ways to film cars”. Ultimately though, they “get all frightened that no one will like any of this” and conclude to carry on in the same vein as the last series.

Personally, and I know I speak for a vast majority of fans when I say this, I wish they weren’t so timid and just took the plunge. Into a metaphorical ice-cold river. Preferably head first without goggles. Because a reliance on the same three or four items has become stale, spoiling those positive aspects.

If Top Gear can endeavour to maintain the innovative approach typical of earlier series – rather than pacing back and forth through the same features week after week and thus resembling a lobotomized Polar bear trapped in a 4×4 metre Zoo enclosure – then we will most probably see its healthy constituent parts ignite once more into a credible vehicle for family entertainment. And on that bombshell, goodnight.


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