As a serious Top Gear fan, I was admittedly very disappointed in Clarkson’s antics or ‘fracas’ as the media termed it, which ended the trio’s lengthy career with the BBC. Jeremy Clarkson has always been a law unto himself, and I’m in total agreement with anyone who says that he occasionally takes things too far. Hammond and May can be just as controversial and borderline offensive when they want to be, but I just can’t help but love the lot of them. Honestly, there’s an element of genuine awe and envy involved too; I’d be utterly elated at the chance to drive and review cars for a living with my mates, whilst seeing the world and getting paid enough to actually buy some of the vehicles I’ve tested. So, losing Top Gear as it was and witnessing the woeful attempts of the BBC to revamp it was really quite depressing. Had the BBC relaunched it slightly differently rather than trying to forcibly recreate the genuine camaraderie between the original three presenters, it could have been passable. Sadly it all came across as a touch desperate and rushed, and certainly seemed to me a poorly executed and mediocre push to win some ratings.
Taking all of this into account, I was genuinely excited for The Grand Tour. My partner and I signed up for Amazon Prime in order to be able to watch it, something we wouldn’t have done for any other show. Just to be able to see Clarkson, Hammond and May back in action on screen together was enough to sway us, but I have to admit there are elements of the show I was (and still am) dubious about. ‘Celebrity Brain Crash’ was lightly amusing in the first episode, but I’ve never been a fan of overblown running gags and this one was really pushed to its absolute limit. As much as its exaggerated, obviously scripted and general cheesiness made me cringe, I accepted it in the first two episodes, hoping it was just a stunt to prove a point to the BBC which would then be openly dismissed as a joke and subsequently scrapped. Sadly, viewers had to put up with this somewhat tacky charade for the entire series, and I ended up fast-forwarding past it and pretending it wasn’t even there.
‘Conversation Street’ on the other hand was brilliantly funny in places, despite the guys straying wildly off-topic from time to time. Scripted or not, seeing the three men sat together mercilessly delivering character assassinations to each other was something I missed when Top Gear ended, and I enjoyed this part of the show for the most part. Conversely, the biggest irritant in The Grand Tour was undoubtedly ‘The American’. Again, I had hoped that this was just a dig at the BBC; a show-off stunt perhaps. There were several moments in Top Gear where the presenters’ exchanges or characterisations of The Stig were a little painful and shamefully scripted, I admit that, but replacing a notoriously ambiguous and silent character with one that just didn’t shut up was a poor decision. The irony of the ‘redneck-style’ character didn’t shine through, but rather served as an aggravating reminder that Top Gear as we all know it is gone forever. The Grand Tour regularly left ‘funny’ territory and slipped into scenarios that were just plain cringe-worthy, and I found myself questioning whether even the presenters themselves found these parts of the show amusing or if they were just ‘testing the water’ for a new audience.
Despite all the superfluous details and silliness though, I did enjoy The Grand Tour, and hope that the aforementioned daft bits will be scrapped in the next series. The beach buggy challenge taking in episodes 7 and 8 was superb, and in my opinion a pleasing and apt homage to Top Gear as it once was. I’ll never tire of watching the trio drive and bicker their way around the world, pushing vehicles to their limits and looking like they’re genuinely enjoying themselves. The opening episode was car porn at its very best, tantalising viewers with slick footage of the Porsche 918, Ferrari LaFerrari and McLaren P1. Who knew hybrid cars could look so good?
Episode 12, ‘[censored] to [censored]’ returned the audience to some of the good old Top Gear toilet humour, with a very deliberate route through some places with names that for any English speaker are somewhat crude. Call them childish, maybe even call me childish for enjoying it, but for me this episode evoked fond Top Gear memories of watching the guys pass through Intercourse in Pennsylvania on their East Coast road trip, and cracking jokes at being ‘in Jezza’ in their Africa Special. I’m not a prude, and don’t think there’s anything offensive or immature about laughing at profanities or making slightly filthy references now and again. Along these lines, I was pleased to find that The Grand Tour isn’t utterly crammed full of ‘bleeps’ masking obvious swear words.
Overall, I’m eagerly anticipating the next series, but hope so much that the slapstick stunts and jokes at the BBC’s expense will be absent from it. Several parts of the show made me roll my eyes and wince as the series progressed, but the films of the guys out in the world doing what they do best more than made up for it. It’s almost impossible to separate Top Gear from The Grand Tour, and therefore difficult to avoid making comparisons, but I’d rather have the latter than nothing at all. To summarise: it’s not Top Gear and never will be, but it’s the closest thing we have.
Dir: Phil Churchward, Brian Klein, Kit Lynch-Robinson
Featuring: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May, Mike Skinner
Prd: Andy Wilman, Christopher Hale, Greg Vince, Richard Evans, Ronan Browne
DOP: Ben Joiner