CarBuzz visited the Top Gear studio, interviewed the hosts, and saw some 80s supercar icons.
It was an easy invitation to accept, and it read something like this: "Hi CarBuzz! Want to fly to the UK and hang out with Top Gear hosts Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid? Oh, and Chris will take you for a few laps around the track. Sound OK?" Uh, does Donald Trump have a bad orange spray tan? I soon found myself standing on the redesigned set, staring at the Ferrari Testarossa, Lamborghini Countach and Lotus Esprit Turbo mounted alongside the walls. It was like being in my childhood bedroom all over again, except these weren't posters.
"I'm not really sure how they got them up there, but it seems like they're missing one," LeBlanc told me when the subject came up during our interview. The empty space he's referring to is where a large vertical Stig flag is placed, but LeBlanc and I both agreed another 80s supercar icon should be there (Note to Top Gear producers: I nominate the Porsche 959). Following my hot laps with Chris Harris in a Mercedes-AMG C63 S, I sat down with LeBlanc, Harris and Rory Reid individually, and I wanted to know how the three, each with their own unique personality and talents, wants to make Top Gear their own while still maintaining the show's spirit of fun and adventure.
Harris, who's more used to making high-quality "renegade" YouTube videos as opposed to big budget productions, is confident about the show's future. "I get to make television in a whole new area that I haven't been involved in before. I think we've ended up in a place where I can sit here and be really proud of this new environment (the studio). This feels like our home now," Harris tells me. "What I know behind me, on this show, is that there are super clever people who come up with amazing ideas, and most of all they make them happen. You just don't go to Kazakhstan to watch a rocket launch in three old cars. That's not something I could do in my YouTube days," he adds.
"I'm incredibly grateful. We have a really good relationship between the three presenters." Rory Reid concurs. "It's fun because I get to work with people who also love cars and love going on adventures. It's like having a bunch of mates go along with you to these things." Although last season didn't work out so well with Chris Evans, Reid says all of the hosts "still spent a lot of time socially together, like at the hotel bar and talking about our favorite cars and favorite places to visit. As a result of all of that bonding behind the scenes last year, we get to see a fairly close-knit group of guys on camera this year." And, for the record, Reid admits he's the most competitive of the three.
"Win at all costs is my motto. In the Kazakhstan film I had a slower car (London black cab) than those guys and I had to resort to cunning." Watch the first episode and you'll see what he's talking about. And because of his proven YouTube creativity, such as his rap about a Rolls-Royce, Reid wouldn't mind "doing some spoken word poetry of some description if the opportunity arrives. I want to bring that element of my creative personality to Top Gear." And speaking of creativity, Matt LeBlanc, aside from being the sole American host, has a comedy acting background. Perhaps you've heard of him and his past work? But what I wanted to know is how he can bring his skills and talent as an actor to his latest gig.
"This separates the three of us. I'll call myself the ambassador of comedy on the show," LeBlanc humbly says. "My job is to sort of bring the funny to it. I'm fairly knowledgeable about cars as well. My dad was a mechanic. But the funny is when my friends will come over and we'll be in the garage and be working on something or goofing around or doing maintenance on something or whatever, and that's where all of the laughing happens. All of the no shit stories around the car. To bring that element to the show would be great." But is LeBlanc as funny in real life as his famous character, Joey Tribbiani? Definitely. "I'm the first guy to crack a joke at a funeral."
"But I also think there's a lot of room for comedy in this environment around the cars. I think it broadens the audience. If it's funny, everyone can relate to it." As for 'Extra Gear,' which was well-received last season, "It'll be what it always should've been," Harris chimes in. "A brilliant and funny guy named George Lewis is fronting it, and Rory and I come and get interviewed about what we've been doing. You get a good look behind the scenes and there's extra footage as well, like going out on location. So Extra Gear gets to grow." Although my studio visit was fairly short, I walked away with complete confidence about these guys and the entire production team.
Not to say I didn't have it beforehand but, let's be honest, following in the footsteps of Clarkson, Hammond and May ain't exactly easy. But LeBlanc feels the show is "returning to the car being the star of the show," evidenced by those wall-mounted 80s supercar icons. Based on the never-before-seen clips I was shown displaying their natural chemistry, sitting down with the guys, meeting the producers, and genuinely feeling the excitement and camaraderie on set, folks, I'm totally confident you're not going to be disappointed by the new, yet familiar, Top Gear. It's a show with a worldwide fan base who's in for a treat. I, for one, am stoked. The new season of Top Gear premieres this Sunday, March 12 at 8/7 central on BBC America.