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Top Gear: Series opener has us asking if hosting trio have gotten too serious?

REVIEW: Have the latest Top Gear trio started to take themselves too seriously?

That’s the question long-time viewers of the show could be asking themselves, after the opening episode of the latest season, which debuted on TVNZ Duke last night (and is now available to stream on TVNZ OnDemand).

Maybe the shift to BBC 1 for the last three seasons has finally gone to their heads. Although, the viewing figures here can’t have been that great, because their brief ascent to Monday nights on TVNZ 1 has now been scuppered, and the show has been returned to its more traditional home.

Anyway, although obviously affected by the current global pandemic, the 31st series kicked off with just two segments and nary a sign of the traditional teaser trailer for the madcap antics we can expect over the next few weeks.

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Motorcycle daredevil Eddie Kidd starred in the 1981 movie Riding High.

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As they rolled up in an Aston Martin Vantage F1 and a Alfa Romeo Guilia GTAm, the two Lancashire lads (Freddy Flinotff and Paddy McGuinness) appeared to be doing their darnedest to seem like real motor-racing drivers, rather than a former cricketing larrikin and a dating show host.

Flintoff reeled off his car’s statistics like they were test averages, before waxing lyrical about “more negative camber” and “increased compression dampening”, something he hurriedly followed up with an admission that, “I’ve no idea what that means”.

Over the past couple of seasons, there has definitely been a shift away from the arch monkeyshines of the current Top Gear trio’s formerly illustrious predecessors Hammond, May and Clarkson.

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Over the past couple of seasons, there has definitely been a shift away from the arch monkeyshines of the current Top Gear trio’s formerly illustrious predecessors Hammond, May and Clarkson.

But, after co-host Chris Harris joined them in his McLaren 765LT, and absolutely blitzed them in a drag race, the trio were unbelievably off to Silverstone for a relay race against three Formula 1 stars – Sebastian Vettel, Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris.

As the crowd brayed, bayed and waited with baited breathe for disaster to strike, McGuinness obliged in spectacularly awful fashion, backing up Vettel’s earlier claim that, “these old men don’t stand a chance”. With only Harris avoiding humiliation, that section of the show was quickly left behind, making you think that maybe there was either more challenges on the cutting room floor that went even worse, or they simply decided to abandon the whole “bit” at that point.

In many ways, the second-half was even less Top Gear-y. Essentially a short documentary on one of McGuinness’ childhood heroes.

Eddie Kidd was Britain’s answer to Evel Knievel. A motorcycle daredevil who either broke records – or himself – every time he took yet another televised leap. While double-decker buses were his speciality, he also famously leapt over the Great Wall of China and took on Knievel’s son Robbie in a best-of-three-jumps duel. A stunt double for everyone from Harrison Ford to Michael Douglas and Richard Gere, he had motorcycle leathers designed by Vivienne Westwood, headlined the 1981 movie Riding High and even recorded two albums.

Much of Top Gear’s humour in recent years has involved the two Lancashire larrikins making fun of their more straight-laced counterpart Chris Harris.

TVNZ

Much of Top Gear’s humour in recent years has involved the two Lancashire larrikins making fun of their more straight-laced counterpart Chris Harris.

With a clear, boyish enthusiasm for his subject, McGuinness interviews Kidd’s sister, mother, friends and long-time mechanic, before finally managing to meet the man who only just cheated death after a horrific accident in 1996.

Coupled with the amazing archival footage, it makes for a poignant, powerful watch – and perhaps an example of what fans really wanted from Netflix’s recent Schumacher documentary – even if McGuinness undermines his credentials with a terrible, scandalous slip of tongue.

Over the past couple of seasons, despite still offering plenty of laughs, especially from the pair from Preston and Bolton, there has definitely been a shift away from the arch monkeyshines of their formerly illustrious predecessors Hammond, May and Clarkson.

While that trio now flounder about on the occasional odyssey that just happens to see them driving vehicles, the current threesome attempt to offer practical advice and assessments of the latest models, amongst bouts of supreme silliness and sometimes hilarious hijinks.

Here’s hoping that the rest of this series finds them rediscovering a little more of the latter.

New episodes of Season 31 of Top Gear screen on TVNZ Duke on Sunday nights at 8.30pm. They are also available to stream on TVNZ OnDemand.



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