It's on. I've got a bottle of Bombardier. I'm wearing a pair of heavy duty Costco-bought thick blue jeans, and a polo shirt from Asda George. I smell of barbecue mingled with the sort of supermarket deodorant that leaves streaks of white powder underneath my creased armpits. I have a watch that has a compass on it, and my sunglasses are the most expensive thing I've bought in the past three years: they are from John Lewis and their high-definition optics lenses offer me razor sharp visuals from every angle. I'm wearing the "Mr Grumpy" slippers my wife bought me. I am your dad. His spirit moves within me, and mine within him.
The reason I've decided to take the form of your father for this one evening is simple: Top Gear is back – only this time The Legendary Jeremy Clarkson, and his two friends Brian May and the Hamster (Richard "The Hamster" Hammond) are out and Chris Evans and Joey From Friends are in.
So I'm here, pretending to be your dad, because for a chunk of the population – the same chunk that have a leather flip-case for their iPhones and an unexplained bit of blue rope in the boot of their cars – the absence of Clarkson is a huge deal. To them, this is like a Beatles reunion with no Paul McCartney and Joey Essex on drums. This is Moby Dick rewritten by Stephanie Meyer. This is a remake of Ghostbusters with an all female cast.
I wanted to understand what this upset felt like. What was it about the return of the show that was so grossly wrong? That had Carol Vorderman so perturbed? So I sat down, switched over, poured a pint of my own blood into the kettle and waited for it to boil.
An hour later, I realised I wasn't watching the new Top Gear anymore. I was watching a documentary about the battle of Jutland during World War I that had come on BBC Two afterwards. Where had that first episode gone? It had definitely been on at one point, I'd definitely started watching it. I tried to remember what had happened. There were cars, I was pretty sure of that, and a studio audience. I think at one point Gordon Ramsay had tried to explain Jesse Eisenberg's new play. There was some banter about England and America that played out for eternity. I think. I was sure I'd been watching Top Gear at some stage, hadn't I?
You see, for all the drama and change.org petitions and angry tweets involving words like "Clarko" and "Jezza" and "TRAVESTY", the new Top Gear is miraculously unremarkable; a more anodyne and uninspired experience than drinking a glass of water when you're "not that thirsty actually".
In fact, the show does pull off one ground-breaking trick: it is simultaneously completely watchable and completely unwatchable. Watchable in that there is absolutely nothing within its running time that could alarm, offend or cause even the most base level chemical response, but unwatchable in that it plugs depths of such profound dullness you forget each frame as you see it. Like the ghost over your shoulder, or an illusive translucent eye floater, the new Top Gear is never quite there.
The stakes are low and the jokes so completely unamusing, it's almost comforting. Maybe it's because it was the Sunday of a bank holiday weekend, but I found the whole experience a bit like sitting in a warm room listening to a boring man talking about linoleum. It didn't hurt my feelings, it didn't have me swelling up with millennial liberal angst. It just left me ready for bed. It was, like 95% of television, reasonably slick and perfectly dull.
Which leaves us with the totally obvious conclusion that Clarkson, May and Hammond, despite being the sorts of blokes I have less in common with than most Jainist monks, were what made the show interesting. Without its Benson and Hedges chuffing King, it's barely worth the petrol money. It is, sadly perhaps, now no different from Fifth Gear. And nobody watches Fifth Gear.
Now help me get these stupid jeans off.
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