Why Extra Gear Seemed So Much Better Than Top Gear

Photo: BBC America
Photo: BBC America

Radio Shack didn’t fail because people stopped buying electronics. People love electronics, more now than ever. What changed was how people expected to buy them. Amazon killed Radio Shack. The new Top Gear didn’t fail because the presenters were bad, it failed because of expectations.


I share much of Freddy’s feeling that the new season premier of Top Gear felt a little off, but I don’t think the hosts are to blame. You could have cloned Jeremy Clarkson, resurrected Ayrton Senna, and put LJK Setright’s spirit in Anna Kendrick’s body and the show still would have suffered.

Top Gear, towards the end, got kind of bad. I think we’ve all romanticized the show in our heads, but the bits started to fall flat. The behind-the-scenes jerry-rigging became more obvious. Even the specials (in particular, the India Special) didn’t carry the punch, unless that punch was pointed down towards an ethnic group.

We accepted it because the show actually worked in spite of the formula, not because of it. The chemistry of the three hosts is what made us keep tuning in even when the filming got too glossy and the jokes too stale. Even in the worst of moments, Jeremy could give James May a look and absolutely kill me. That’s what we expected, not some interview with an actor.

I’m hopeful the new show will work and I think the best thing they can do is not just tweak the format but chuck it all together. Top Gear USA got much better when they stopped caring about copying the Brits beat-for-beat and it sounds like The Grand Tour is going the same way.

This is what makes Extra Gear so much more fun to watch. One could argue that there’s something particularly British (in the bad way) of putting the first two people of color to host the show in their own, separate and shorter timeslot, but not having to fill an hour is kind of a gift and the two hosts make the most of it. Sorry Nat X.

I guess I need to disclose that I edited Chris Harris for a short period of time and have been friendly with him for longer than that. This doesn’t mean I’m rooting for him. If anything, I secretly hoped Chris would fail so he’d be desperate enough to work for us again. Or maybe The Drive if he really needed the money.


It’s my misfortune then that Chris is good in this and so is Rory Reid. I don’t know Reid, and I don’t know if Chris knew him before this, but the two are either great actors or do have a natural sort of chemistry. At one point in Extra Gear there’s an interview with a Comedian for no explicable reason and we see Reid poke at Chris for being old. The joke works. As do jokes about chav-y cars and murdered out BMWs. As does the news bit, which is maybe the most fun in the entire combined 90 minutes of both shows.

Old Top Gear was a show about us watching a few old farts play with cars and the enjoyment I assume an older generation got was out of relating to it, while the rest of us could enjoy seeing our grandfathers doing goofy shit. Rarely, though, did it feel like they were talking at my level. Extra Gear feels like it is.


There’s a lot of promo work for Top Gear in this episode of the Extra Gear, including a kind of throwaway review of the new Star-In-A course. There’s also Chris Harris doing a re-review of the Ariel Nomad and, while I actually think LeBlanc did a good job of talking abut the weird runabout, Chris does his traditional Chris Harris thing of driving something right up to the edge while still being concise and clear and funny and effusive and just a little dumb all at the same time. I liked it better.

Reid also ventures to (co-host?) Sabine Schmitz’s home in Germany for a tour of the Nürburgring and her meatball car and Texas saloon. I love Sabine Schmitz, like every gearhead, and her being a weirdo makes it that much more fun. This is the lesson that Top Gear most needs to learn, that we liked old Top Gear because of those times when we thought we got a glimpse of the real Jeremy Clarkson or Richard Hammond and it let us overlook the artifice.


Extra Gear doesn’t feel forced, which is why it feels fun.

I wonder if the producers behind Top Gear looked at Extra Gear and worried maybe they’d gotten it backwards? I hope they do, and I hope they look at the success of Extra Gear and apply those lessons to the main show or, just like Radio Shack, there’s Amazon lurking with an answer.


Gawker Media's Executive Editor for Publishing Partnerships. Ex-Jalopnik EiC.


I think everyone needs to drop this expectation of instant gratification. No New or rebooted TV show is going to nail it on day one. This isn’t the first Top Gear reboot. The original wasn’t perfect in the beginning, the second one wasn’t perfect in the beginning and.. Hey! Look at that! This one isn’t either..