Would Top Gear survive without Jeremy Clarkson?
Whenever I watch Top Gear I end up thinking how brilliant the little films are in which the presenters race against each other against a lush backdrop, all stylishly filmed and cunningly edited. What the blokes (and blokes they most certainly are) actually say during these bits, and indeed the rest of the program, goes in one ear and out the other. It’s sometimes mildly amusing, occasionally trying hard to be “politically incorrect” or more often than not low-level, down-to-earth, guys-joshing-with-guys stuff you’d hear down any pub of a Sunday night. James May, Richard Hammond and the newly suspended Jeremy Clarkson have never seemed particularly able to summon up a genuinely original joke or especially funny observation and yet they’ve turned Top Gear into one of the biggest TV shows in the world, and somehow created their own industry built around their faux-hilarious “bantz”.
Now the show is in the news again, after myriad controversies of recent years, because Clarkson is alleged to have had a “fracas” with a producer over a late food delivery, it seems to me more than anything a reminder of the utter mystery of this pop-culture phenomenon. My preference: let Clarkson and his mates go (to start “Another Gear” on ITV?) and bring in some actually clever and funny people like Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and maybe even – shock horror! – a woman like Sue Perkins, who did a great job in BBC2’s World’s Most Dangerous Roads program. Which, incidentally, was more interesting than most episodes of Top Gear.
Much as it pains me to say it, fracas-prone Top Gear tyrant Clarkson is a televisual genius. Together with exec-producer Andy Wilman, the unseen fourth member of the team, Clarkson masterminded its staggeringly successful reinvention 13 years ago from a sober motoring review show into a throbbing, shouty, shiny, engine-revving entertainment monster. From the stunts to the sense of “humor”, the show is made in his paunchily provocative image. Carrying on without him would be like The Sopranos without Tony, or Taggart after Taggart died, or Queen fronted by Adam Lambert off American Idol. Why should we want it to splutter on anyway? With its petrolhead politics, steadfast refusal to cover electric or eco-friendly cars and 70s throwback LOLZ, Top Gear is already outmoded. Without its charismatic captain to keep it afloat, it will sink like a caravan dropped off a cliff.