It has been a great series. I even managed to get Mrs Sands back to watching it, we used to watch it together occasionally in the Clarkson eras but she hasn't watched it since but thinks the new line up is great.
My main reservation is that some of the banter had gone a bit too far, it is seeming at times like it's crossing the line. Even though its obviously all planned and Chris is in on it, I've really not liked it on a few occasions.
I suspect that particular aspect will be toned down for next series
Having been in the studio, the dynamic between the presenters is genuine and not forced
I know Twitter et al accused Flintoff of bullying Chris Harris during the "fill the family cars/hearse up with as much stuff as you can" challenge. He and Paddy locked Chris in the hearse, but Flintoff furthered that by deciding to throw Chris's keys away, empty his car, and smash a watermelon on his head.
Even though I'm sure this was well-meant banner, I felt this was pushing it, and I think it's hindered by the fact that Flintoff has come across generally infallible, such as being borderline immune to being electrocuted. When somebody who can seem to do no wrong starts to look like he's punching down rather than up or across, I'm not surprised it provoked this reaction.
If more opportunities arise for Flintoff to fall on his arse a bit more often and level the playing field a bit, it'll help shake off any accusations of "bullying". I'm pretty confident what we see is genuine, good-natured banter, but none of the original trio ever regularly seemed superior to the others, and I worry Flintoff might prove to be an exception to that and render him generally unlikeable.
I had reservations going in to the series but it grew on me quite a bit, although not a fan of the extended celebrity segment, it used to work well in the Clarkson era when you just got a celeb to have a natter for 5 minutes for them to plug whatever and then show their lap, this is still one of my favourites :- (I suppose it helped in the Clarkson days that they could attract the 'higher profile' guests!)
Also it feels quite awkward how they seem to still acknowledge The Stig but at the same time seem to just brush him under the carpet these days, the power laps are now on their YouTube rather than the main show and feel very weird with no music or commentary (in the back of my head I can't help hearing Clarkson '...and across the line!')
I'm reading a book by a Pixar company director. During preliminary test screenings of The Incredibles, the production team were surprised and troubled by the negative audience reaction to Mr Incredible.
They traced the problem to how the character towered over others and particularly his domineering presence over his partner, which made audience members uncomfortable and the character unintentionally unlikable.
Their solutions involved subtly altering scene dynamics, increasing the size and overall presence of Elastigirl, to ensure the pair had parity when they were on screen together.
Whether the Top Gear scenes were heavily scripted or not (and I am sure they were), that's kind of irrelevant. Certain moments provoked similar reactions of unease in audiences - based on what they saw portrayed on screen, without knowledge of the production process. Such reactions are entirely reasonable, natural and avoidable.
I'd agree the problem may be Flintoff doesn't seem to get his comeuppance often enough/at all. This imbalance can be easily addressed in future series.
Otherwise, I found the episodes I watched entertaining. A return to form.