Top Gear - Lancastrian likely lads Freddie and Paddy turbo-charge the Beeb's misfiring car show

Chris Harris, Freddie Flintoff and Paddy McGuinness present Top Gear
Chris Harris, Freddie Flintoff and Paddy McGuinness present Top Gear

It’s back then. From being dumper-bound for years, ever since Jeremy Clarkson got himself in bother, Top Gear (BBC2, Sundays, 9pm) is back.

Fronted by salt-of-the-earth Lancastrians Paddy McGuinness and Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, together with less salty southerner Chris Harris, at first glance this Top Gear reboot is less pimp my ride and more give it a wash and a polish.

The format is still broadly familiar – the three presenters still open the show by exchanging banter in front of an audience hiding the keys to their Ford Focuses in their Ferrari-badged blouson jackets, shuffling nervously in their Reebok Classics and stonewashed jeans.

They still do track tests of absurdly expensive and overpowered supercars, which are so far from anything the viewers might drive they may as well be riding a unicorn while telling us the handling is spot on but the top end is a bit torque-y.

And they still do epic journeys, filmed like Lawrence of Arabia – this time heading through Ethiopia in their ‘first cars’.

So, Top Gear is still heading rapidly for the scrapheap, right? Wrong. Despite the format seeming tired and overworked, even towards the end of the Clarkson era, these three somehow make it seem fresh.

Where Clarkson, before Chris Evans, and then Matt LeBlanc seemed to be the ‘stars’, keeping their co-presenters firmly in their places, Flintoff, McGuiness and Harris act as equals, and they actually like and respect each other.

They are a lot more at ease with themselves, not forcing the locker-room banter, and they get emotional when they talk about what these cars mean to them.

In fact, the word that springs to mind is genuine. And these three have genuinely brought Top Gear back from the dead.

The final episode of Years and Years (BBC1, Tuesdays, 9pm) brought a sliver of hope after five episodes of mounting dread, and I watched the last five minutes in tears. It’s still on iPlayer, so watch it.

Joseph Heller’s classic novel Catch-22 (Channel 4, Thursdays, 9pm) has been brought to the screen by George Clooney. It’s terrific stuff – surreal, absurd and horrific.