Top Gear’s 2-Hour Meander Through Africa: A Worrying Sign For The Series

After watching last night’s finale of Top Gear’s latest series, I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed. The fact is, the show isn’t as good as it was at its peak, and I’m not sure who – if anyone – is to blame.

Splitting the Africa special into two hour-long episodes, I think, was particularly damaging to the latest in a long line of often-brilliant specials. While I don’t look at it and think there are obvious parts that could have been cut, I also didn’t get anything out of it being extra long. There weren’t exactly any cliffhangers to be had, and the humor level simply wasn’t there most of the time.

Is it because of old jokes that are now getting tired, themes that are getting played out? That’s possible, I suppose. But I go back to the Bolivia and Botswana specials, and they’re just so great. I laugh my ass off every time, and I really love the cinematography and the guys’ thoughts on the cars, culture, and anything else that pops into their heads.

I just didn’t feel as connected to the hosts and their experiences this time. It seems like they’re trying to take a new direction with these specials: cramming in more “stuff” visually (challenges, drama, chase shots with music, etc.) at the expense of the in-car monologues, the campfire / dinner discussions, and various kinds of childish humor.

Unfortunately, the most likely explanation to me is that the show’s creative direction (Clarkson and the production team) have become concerned with “evolving” Top Gear (Andy Wilman spoke about the show becoming a little formulaic a couple years back), and the result has been undeniably to its detriment. Last year’s India special, for example, was one of the worst episodes of Top Gear ever produced.
Oddly, I thought the episode prior to the Africa special was one of the best in years (when James and Jeremy build the old people’s car, which was hilarious).

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