Reviews for Jeremy Clarkson’s final Top Gear episode have offered different opinions on whether the programme was at its best or past its prime.
The 75-minute special, compiled from footage shot before Clarkson was sacked for punching a producer in March, aired on BBC Two on Sunday evening.
The Guardian described the programme as “clever, stupid telly”, going on to praise the presenters’ camaraderie.
But the Daily Mail demurred, calling the show “as worn out as a bald tyre”.
It was watched by an average audience of 5.3 million viewers, according to overnight figures – slightly better than the previous edition in March, which had 5.1 million viewers, but well below the series’ peak of 8.35 million, from December 2007.
The farewell episode was anchored by Clarkson’s former co-hosts, Richard Hammond and James May, who ran through their links in an otherwise empty studio.
They were accompanied by “the elephant in the room” – a large, plastic, replica elephant called Jeremy.
The show contained no other allusions or references to Clarkson’s departure, or the circumstances surrounding it.
Instead the episode stitched together two films: a pootle across Britain in three classic cars, and a series of challenges in second-hand SUVs [sports utility vehicles].
“Mercifully, neither film included any racial slurs for old times’ sake,” wrote Ellen E Jones in The Independent. “But even without them, it felt like the end of an era.”
The “infectious chemistry” of the three presenters, said the Daily Telegraph’s critic, made the episode feel like “an intimate farewell gig by a much-loved band”.
“There were tears of mirth, toilet humour and mild incontinence,” Michael Hogan continued, saying the show was “huge fun, if typically puerile.”
“The ideas, the humour, the chutzpah… are hard to argue with,” wrote Sam Wollaston in The Guardian.
“We can boo the puerility – and worse – of the presenters… but this Top Gear has often been imaginative, original, entertaining, amusing and artfully made television.”
The Mail’s Christopher Stevens was less charitable. In a one-star review, he said the episode was “as painful as pulling teeth”.
“There were no Stig jokes, no catchphrases, no terrible puns. This wasn’t a real Top Gear episode, just a hollowed-out shell… zombie television.
“The million-plus fans who petitioned the BBC to recall Clarkson should be ashamed of themselves.”
“Top Gear’s finale was a stark reminder why the programme would never have worked with one member of the hilarious trio missing,” wrote Katie Earlam in The Sun.
May and Hammond “seemed lost without Clarkson”, she went on, and their studio links “were simply sad”.
Her comments were echoed by Nicola Methven in the Daily Mirror. “James and Richard… looked pretty choked at the end,” she observed.
“The studio scenes were odd in the extreme, thanks to the lack of studio audience (and Hammond’s beard).”
The two films, said Andrew Billen in The Times, reminded him “how consistently well-made these [filmed reports] were” but also offered evidence on “how fundamentally objectionable and ultimately unsustainable the partnership’s act was”.
“Clarkson’s Top Gear was always at its heart about big little boys destroying things,” he continued. “Fittingly, in the end the most puerile man on TV destroyed his own programme.”
Fans also had their say on Twitter, with many mourning the end of the show’s current incarnation.
“I’m really not crying, I’ve just got Top Gear in my eye,” wrote one. “My Sunday evening will never be the same,” added another.
Series director Phil Churchward was also watching at home. “Even though I was lucky enough to film it live I still found myself laughing out loud at the TV again tonight,” he wrote. “Super Top Gear.”
Several viewers criticised the BBC for dropping Clarkson.
“I’m imagining a highly paid BBC boss, in a darkened room, rocking back [and] forth, muttering ‘what have we done’,” wrote Gail Macgregor.
“Feeling terribly saddened for the end of an era and maddened by the pomposity of the BBC,” added columnist and professional opinion-haver Katie Hopkins.
But not everyone held the BBC accountable.
“Don’t blame the BBC for what’s happening to Top Gear, blame your fave presenter for punching a colleague,” said Jess.
“That was a perfect last #TopGear,” said BT Sport presenter Jake Humphrey. “Hands up who else is now even more annoyed with @JeremyClarkson.”
Clarkson himself tweeted a mea culpa as the show ended.
“Many many thanks for all your support and encouragement over the years. So sad and sorry it’s ended like this.”
“Can’t believe that one life has room to accommodate the first and the last steps of that incredible adventure,” added Hammond. “Thanks for your company.”
James May thanked fans “for all your kind comments,” adding that he expected more abuse about his colourful jacket.
Sunday’s episode can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer until 27 July.