As a motorist whose technical expertise just about runs to changing the CD, I’ve not really followed the waxing and waning fortunes of Top Gear, beyond the tabloid headlines (to whit: Clarkson and co out, Chris Evans and Joey off Friends in, Evans out again…)
So the first thing that struck me about Sunday’s Japanese special was how weirdly subdued, even sombre, the opening studio link was, with Matt LeBlanc introducing the show without so much as a sniff of anything you might call #bantz. (And this despite wearing an orange jumper that made him look like he’d skinned Bungle from Rainbow.)
Then it was straight down to the nitty gritty, with Chris Harris test-driving a Lexus Something Or Other, during which he said all the usual stuff that car people say (‘Nought to 60 in less than five seconds, blah blah blah’), before hopping into a Honda Civic and rhapsodising about its ‘perfect Type R aluminium Type gear nob’. Get a room.
He was then joined by ‘The Stig’s ninja cousin’ (because they were in Japan, see?) to put the two cars through their paces in a race. I didn’t write down which won.
Next we followed Matt and Chris to Tokyo on a mission to buy a couple of vintage Japanese cars to sell at auction. Hang on, what is this, Bargain Hunt? But first they had to race to the auction house. Then, when they’d made their purchases, they had another race, this time with a Sumo wrestler in the passenger seat (because they were in Japan, see?). After that, there was just time for a ‘Tokyo drift’ challenge - i.e. another race, but sideways – before one final race to the airport.
What really surprised me was how… car-centric it all was. The Clarkson-Hammond-May model of launching caravans into space and casually offending entire continents may have been television Marmite, but it had an undeniable swagger. This, by contrast, feels a bit like an episode Tiff Needell and Quentin Wilson might have presented back in the 80s – less Top Gear, more reverse gear.
This 20th birthday celebration of Victoria Wood’s peerless sitcom gathered most of the key players – with one crushing exception – for a fond look back at their time on canteen duty. Wood herself was represented by an illuminating archive audio interview, explaining how she’d wanted the series self-contained on what was effectively a stage set, and that her key word had been ‘non-eventfulness’. Glorious clips, and lovely outtakes, too.
ITV has obviously thrown a fair bit of money – and some serious talent (Vicky McClure! Stephen Graham!) – at this action-packed Bond spoof. But while writer-star Tom Davis is a very funny man, too often this feels like a flabby vanity project, particularly in the overlong, underwritten bits where he plays a Russian supervillain. Also: a spy spoof in which the leading man plays both the dashing hero and scarred evil genius… sound familiar? Yeah baby!
Published in Waitrose Weekend, March 15, 2018
(c) Waitrose Weekend