We had a feeling this was coming, right? Following presenter Andrew Flintoff’s 2022 crash that resulted in life-altering injuries, the BBC has brushed the “Top Gear” show into the archives of history for now. In a statement, the broadcaster wrote: “Given the exceptional circumstances, the BBC has decided to rest the UK show for the foreseeable future… We know resting the show will be disappointing news for fans, but it is the right thing to do.” Well, that’s quite the euphemism. In this case, “resting the show” means axing the program, possibly picking it up another time. As much as this news sucks, it’s probably what needed to happen.
This isn’t the first time Top Gear’s been cancelled. That happened in 2001, when a more consumer-focused car show than the one we know today was axed by the BBC following a decline in viewership. The relaunch was swift, with former presenter Jeremy Clarkson and producer Andy Wilman relaunching the show in 2002. While there was some early-installment weirdness to reborn-Top Gear, the show eventually found its footing and went on to be the biggest automotive TV show…in the world.
Of course, good things come to the end, and they can feel like a punch to the face when they do. In the case of Clarkson-era “Top Gear,” things really did end with a punch, when Clarkson allegedly threw hands at producer Oisin Tymon. The result? Clarkson’s contract wasn’t renewed, Richard Hammond and James May left, and “The Grand Tour” was born.
Of course, this left the BBC with a void of presenters, and the broadcaster decided to pull a GM by throwing every possible talent at the wall and seeing what stuck. Chris Evans certainly didn’t, but Chris Harris, Matt LeBlanc, and Rory Reid did. So did Sabine Schmitz, a beacon of automotive enthusiasm and driving expertise brighter than the sun. Rest In Peace, Sabine.
By 2019, it was time for another dramatic presenter shuffle, with LeBlanc and Reid heading out and two new presenters coming in: Cricketer Andrew Flintoff and comedian Paddy McGuinness. While the first season with this lineup was a bit wooden, the chemistry developed, and the last seasons of “Top Gear” were some of the best ever. In a way, the reborn show had always been a bit “Jackass” but with cars, and the antics of Flintoff, McGuinness, and Harris played to this strength. Viewership figures were returning from the gutters, with the 30th season performing just as well domestically as the final season with Clarkson, Hammond, and May, as per the U.K.’s BARB viewing data. Still, it’s not hard to find internet commenters bemoaning the final presenter lineup.
Does “Top Gear” still deserve to exist? I reckon it does. There’s always a market for high-grade, exceptionally-produced car porn, and “Top Gear” redefined the automotive program into something experiential rather than consumer-focused. It tapped into a pillar of the industry that some professionals neglect: Escapism. You may never try to cross the English Channel in a homemade amphibious car, drive a Peel P50 through an office, or hoon the latest McLaren on track, but it’s fun to see cars move.
If anything, a break could be good for the show. Calling it quits for now can throw the pale light of day on a legacy that’s impossible to live up to, give leeway towards presenters for a possible rebirth, and most importantly, show respect to Flintoff. Sure, it isn’t the first time a presenter has been seriously injured during filming, but that doesn’t make it better. It would be rude to just pick up the show without a presenter that helped make it awesome, especially when that presenter’s experienced a great deal of hurt. Perhaps it’s time for “Top Gear” to exit the airwaves, but not forever. In a few years, everyone will miss it like the desert misses rain.
(Photo credits: BBC)
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