I know you’re going through a bit of an identity crisis right now. Half your nation voted to leave Europe in the great “dear God, what have we done” Brexit referendum last month, and you’re left figuring out your place in the world. Naturally, you’re tempted to move westward, to your special relationship with America, and forsake all this European nonsense. Which is why I can understand you thinking that allowing Matt LeBlanc to solo-host Top Gear might endear you to your American allies. Let me, then, in the humblest possible manner, offer an alternative opinion.
Britain, this is literally the worst idea you’ve had since you voted to Brexit without a plan and all your leaders resigned (you’re really not having a good summer, are you?). Top Gear without a British host is like tea without a biscuit, Doctor Who without a TARDIS, Churchill without a cigar or a Pret a Manger without a queue. It’s unspeakably un-British. And in case you haven’t noticed, that’s what makes us Yanks tune in: Top Gear’s Britishness.
I know you think you’re playing to our Friends nostalgia by hiring Joey to play the idiot American who doesn’t know anything about this foreign country, but trust me, it’s not doing you any favors. Chris Evans may have been trying way too hard to fill Jeremy Clarkson’s impossible shoes, but at least he made an attempt to keep the format that made Top Gear the most-watched factual show in the world. Granted, most fans are just counting the days until Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond’s The Grand Tour airs on Amazon, but we were willing to give the new hosts a shot. After all, 4.7 million viewers at least gave it the old college try by tuning in, but as the mass failure of the successive shows proved, there was no magic.
You may argue that it was the lack of camaraderie between Evans and LeBlanc, that Evans was reportedly a nightmare to work with or that a show made by and for Clarkson and his acolytes would never be accepted with new hosts. I don’t think you’d be wrong, but I also don’t think it’s the whole story. If there’s anything to be learned from this, it’s that worldwide audiences not only tuned in weekly for the fast cars but for that hearty dose of the old British lads acting like rotten schoolboys that pandered to Clarkson, May and Hammond’s charisma. For a nation that just asserted it wants to be nothing but British these days, there’s no great surprise that Top Gear’s cheeky winks and nods to British imperialism and mid-century nostalgia were a key draw for its huge viewership. What makes Top Gear great is that it is unapologetically British and proud of it — even when it’s drooling over Italian cars and Swiss roads.
To then hand over the reins exclusively to an American, especially a highly irrelevant one such as 2016 Matt LeBlanc, is to say good-bye to everything that made the show beloved. It’s a risky move to give Top Gear to someone who spent his first foray into hosting staring blankly at British city names and seeming disdainful of everything about the country, its cars and its culture. The same antics done by Americans falls flat without the dry humor, the infusion of intelligent insight and the innate stiff-upper-lip cheekiness. If you need proof, just look at the canceled Top Gear USA, which never managed to find a niche here. LeBlanc, with his blank stares, sleep-inducing voiceovers and seeming complete disinterest in even hosting the show, is sure to turn an already foundering ship into the Titanic as soon as he takes the helm.
So, I beseech the BBC to start over. Remake Top Gear into something altogether new, with new hosts, gimmicks and stunts. Shape it to fit a post-Brexit world where the nation is half imperialistic, half deeply ashamed, but still determinedly British. Don’t cater to American audiences — if our binge lists filled with Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Broadchurch and The Great British Bake Off and the Prince Harry posters taped to our walls are any indication, we are all in on the Britishness.