Paddy McGuinness and Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff have been announced as replacements for Matt LeBlanc on Top Gear, putting two safe pairs of hands behind the wheel of the BBC motoring show when it returns for a 27th series in 2019. A presenter of a laddy dating show (Take Me Out) and a team captain of a somehow even more laddy game show (A League of Their Own) respectively, McGuinness and Flintoff possess sufficient “bloke” credentials to appeal to fans. Both from Lancashire and of similar age, they're likely to forge a more natural relationship than the original pairing of Chris Evans and LeBlanc.
Top Gear has struggled to make a presenter stick in the three years since Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond left to churn up pastures new at Amazon Prime when Clarkson, their de facto leader, was sacked. The tyre-smoking triumvirate had become heroes to fans of the show, stuffing a petrol-soaked rag in its format in the early 2000s and gleefully lighting a match. Alongside producer Andy Wilman, they expanded the scope of the show beyond consumer motoring, and introduced a studio element that helped build a sense of community around the show.
Evans replaced them – and was doomed from the start. “Gave it my best shot but sometimes that’s not enough,” he tweeted in announcement of his departure after only one series in 2016. Clearly chewed up and spat out by his Top Gear experience, Evans ended up hated by fans of cars and was damaged by the fallout from the Cenotaph stunt.
His co-host, LeBlanc, fared better. The Friends actor brought star power to the show, coming across as cool where Evans seemed desperate. It felt like LeBlanc had less riding on the show, which was probably the case. Ultimately, this pro turned out to also be a con, with LeBlanc quitting after going it alone for one series. “The time commitment and extensive travel required to present Top Gear takes me away from my family and friends more than I’m comfortable with,” he lamented.
It was back to the drawing board for the BBC. Producers had bumped Top Gear lieutenants Rory Reid and Chris Harris up to main presenter roles to bolster the LeBlanc series, but weren’t about to let them go it alone, and clearly needed a new household name to front the show once again.
McGuinness and Flintoff might not be new additions that will set the world alight, but maybe pyromania isn’t what the show needs right now.
Chasing The Grand Tour is a fool’s errand. The Clarkson, Hammond and May vehicle is getting bigger and more spectacular with every series, and Amazon’s budget will always outstrip the BBC’s. In comparison to The Grand Tour‘s Fast & Furious antics, Top Gear is hitting one-foot jump ramps in a Reliant Robin. The Amazon show is also becoming less and less about cars though, and when memorable moments don’t happen organically, it relies on irksome contrivances.
This presents the next series of Top Gear with an opportunity to tap back into an audience who are actually interested in cars themselves rather than the wacky destruction of them. There’s a gap for a show that actually covers new models along with developments in the motoring industry. Granted, McGuinness and Flintoff aren’t going to be experts in this area, but a motoring journalist was never going to work as a host however qualified.
The programme has been trying too hard to floor it in recent years. With the right support, McGuinness and Flintoff could be the likely lads to ease Top Gear back down into third.
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