Amazon Review: The Grand Tour
By: Jenny Moore
Bottom line: What starts out as a magnificent trip down memory lane seems to hit a few bumps in the road before it reaches the finish line.
If you would have told me 10 years ago that one of my favorite shows would be one hosted by three middle aged British men who review cars, I would have rolled my eyes before informing you that no show could possibly be better than NBC’s Scrubs.
That all changed when a roommate introduced me to the “Botswana Special” of Top Gear one cold night in Athens, Ohio. Although I was reluctant to watch, I remember finding the dysfunctional relationship between Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May so hysterically funny that I was in tears at one point. Even after all of these years, I still cannot pinpoint what it is about their interactions that I love so much. Maybe it’s how brutally honest they are to one another or the silly pranks they play when they’re bored. Either way, I was sad to read that the BBC had decided not to renew Jeremy Clarkson’s contract in 2015 after it was made public that Clarkson went apeshit on a Top Gear producer. Soon after, Hammond and May released statements that they too would not be renewing their contracts with BBC. From this, people began to speculate that the three would be taking their iconic series to a new network in the near future.
In 2016, Amazon Prime made headlines for spending an estimated 250 million, according to Forbes, to license their new series for three seasons. After months of waiting, “The Grand Tour” premiered in November and quickly became the streaming service’s most watched premiere episode to date. As I began watching the first episode, waves of nostalgia washed over me as Clarkson, Hammond and May walked onto their new set while being surrounded by a sea of fans. This gave me high hopes for the remainder of the series as S1E1 “The Holy Trinity” did a great job of hyping you up for what was to come. A quick montage of the season soon followed that highlighted Top Gear-esque style cinematography with extreme close ups in rich vibrant colors of luxury vehicles, beautiful scenery in various parts of the world and the three guys just having fun together. As the series progressed though, it just felt like something was missing. It just did not seem to have the same magnetic energy that pulled you into the series as Top Gear did for me all those years ago.
To help differentiate “The Grand Tour” from “Top Gear”, the series decided to completely reimagine two of the iconic staples that made the BBC series what it was with the trio. First it was their test driver. Remember the good ‘ole days when Clarkson would banter with a deadpanned silent driver in a white jumpsuit and helmet named The Stig? It was great how Clarkson could be as loud and opinionated as he wanted and The Stig would just stand there silently with his arms crossed. It did not become apparent how genius it was to create “The Odd Couple” relationship between the two until The Grand Tour created the Mr. Hyde version of The Stig and named him Mike “The American” Skinner. Ugh. That is the reaction I would have each time that man would open his mouth. For example, in episode 9, James May reviews the electric Honda NSX. In this clip, the show does a great job of using a similar cinematography approach that Top Gear viewers have become accustomed to with beautiful heavily saturated shots of the car maneuvering around a race course at a reduced frame speed. Right after though, “The American” was, of course, disgusted with the car and as he was test driving he said “Electric ain’t for engines, it’s for lights and chairs”. Ugh. I mean, come on. No one would ever say something that would make them sound that stupid. It would be one thing if he made comments as ridiculous as that every one in a while but when it is every week, it just becomes a bit too much. The Grand Tour producers should really just get rid of this personality before it does any further damage to the show.
The second staple that “The Grand Tour” created to help differentiate themselves was the set location. Instead of having one central staging location, the guys instead traveled around the world and invited fans to their “tent” set. The “traveling tent” landed in locations that included Nashville, Finland and South Africa. This seemed like a great concept that should have spurred clips of the guys in the locations that they were in. The creators instead would have the guys be on set be in one location but would show clips of them in completely different places. For instance in episodes 11 and 12, the guys are in Scotland and Clarkson jokes at the beginning of both episodes that they traveled and then needed to stay in Scotland in order to learn more about the Loch Ness monster, but do not follow it up with clips of them doing anything during their extended stay there. With this setup I have to ask, why even have a traveling set at all? Wouldn’t it just be cheaper for Amazon and less taxing on the hosts if they did not have to do the extra locations just for their in studio segments?
Through all of this, please note that this show is still very entertaining to watch. One of the best segments that the show has is one called “ Conversation Street” where the three discuss current trends in the car industry. The segment is great because it is (or seems like) one of the least scripted interactions that the presenters have with one another while they discuss topics that they’re passionate about. I personally enjoyed taking the fun facts that they guys discuss and tell them to my friends or co-workers the day after watching the newest episode. For example, did you know that car manufacturers are still creating cars that are marketed as being “just for women”. In a society today where equality is one of the of the top issues, cars like the Seat Mii by Cosmopolitan still exist and use marketing terminology like the headlights “have an eyeliner shape” and “is easy to park”. WHAT?! To hear how the guys felt about this, be sure to watch episode 11 titled “Italian Lessons”.
Their destination challenges that feel similar to the Top Gear special episodes (EX: Botswana Special, Vietnam Special, etc.) are also a beautiful and hilarious trip down memory lane. In “The Beach (Buggy) Boys Part One” and part two, the guys travel to Namibia and are given a challenge where they have to prove how great the1960s beach buggies are to their producer through a series of challenges. Throughout the two episode story arc, there is everything that you hope for when Clarkson, Hammond and May are together. Silly antics with one another, hilarious commentary from each as they are driving in their customized vehicles to showcase how different they really are from one another and beautiful scenery of their location to help tie it all together.
In the end, it is worth noting that the episode that started it all for me, “The Botswana Special” was during their 10th season of Top Gear. The guys then went on to host another 12 seasons before its untimely end in 2015. So it is only fair to say that Amazon should be allotted some extra time (in this case, the two additional seasons that they have signed) to work out the kinks they seem to be having to make “The Grand Tour” into the best new car series that we’ve all been waiting for.