It's been over 18 months since Jeremy Clarkson unceremoniously left the BBC, a company that had been employing him to spew out nonsense about cars for decades. It was the end of an era, especially since the BBC's attempts to revive Top Gear with new presenters was a horrific failure. Now, though, after a heavy marketing campaign, Amazon's The Grand Tour is here. Does that succeed where the show I not-so-lovingly call Reverse Gear failed? Let's find out.
It's apparent from the get-go that the trio of presenters are definitely not going to shy away from the series of awkward and violent news events that led them where they are now. There's Clarkson looking very miserable in rain-sodden London, and fleeing to Los Angeles where he's joined by Hammond, May, and a fleet of insane and expensive-looking cars driving across the desert. It's hard not to see the symbolism here, and it's clear that the three of them are leaving Top Gear in a very literal cloud of dust.
If the fleet of cars wasn't enough, a series of jet flybys shows that The Grand Tour is definitely taking advantage of the ridiculous money Amazon is throwing at them.
Finally hitting the main stand, in front of a crowd not too dissimilar from what you'd find at a teen pop concert, we get to see the derisive banter the trio have become known for since James May joined Old New Top Gear in 2003. Pretty much immediately they jump into the insults, noting where and when they've lost their jobs. Surprisingly, due to a lovely technicality, Jeremy Clarkson has never actually been sacked. Hammond and May can't say the same thing.
Not only is it the kind of thing we all know and love from the Top Gear days, it's a stark contrast to the premiere of Chris Evans' Top Gear. Evans' jokes fell completely flat and were pretty much devoid of any humour, making them seem slightly malicious in nature. Self-deprecation is one of the things these three have become very good at, and the jokes they make at their own expense are, well, funny. That's why people watched Top Gear in the first place, and it's bound to attract them to The Grand Tour in droves.
But as amusing as it is to see them take the piss out of themselves, it's clear that they're not letting silly little things like television standards get in their way (they are on the internet, after all). The American audience is the butt of Clarkson's famous anti-Yankee comments, and they don't take long before firing a few shots at the Prius. Just like the good old days.
The main thing to remember is that the format isn't too dissimilar from Top Gear. In fact, despite all the warnings that it needed to be as different to Top Gear as possible, it's basically identical. There are studio (or tent) sections interspersed with segments of film featuring the presenters doing car things. There's a non-anonymous in-house racing driver, hot laps, car reviews, a news segment (called Conversation Street, because clear 'The News' is copyrighted by the BBC, and even a celebrity segment featuring one or more celebrities (I won't say what it is, because it'll spoil that part of the episode).
The celebrity segment may not be the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car (the track was too heavy to take on tour apparently, leading them to poke fun at the whole idea), but it's all obvious what's going on. Top Gear was an international hit, and the team's making sure not to shake up the formula too much. The only major changes are those done to appease the BBC's legal team, and the obvious places they've been able to spend more money.
Naturally, the whole thing is full of the same over the top silliness Hammond, Clarkson, and May brought to their former employer. A lot of it in fact, probably because they don't have BBC censors breathing down their backs in case someone says something that may or may not be racist. Thankfully nobody has been accidentally racist (yet), unless insulting Americans counts.
While The Grand Tour has a legal obligation to avoid being too similar to Top Gear, it actually feels more like Top Gear than Evans' failed reboot ever did. Probably because Clarkson, Hammond, and May were Top Gear, and the BBC doesn't have the rights to their personalities. You can't mimic how amusing it is to see James May firing an assault rifle from a moving car, or screaming at his compatriots. Because frankly, you can't replicate James May.
You could probably replicate Clarkson to an extent, but I'm sure that's not what the BBC wants.
The three presenters have a chemistry that's been built up over many years, along with a knack for just getting things done properly. While the BBC might not have made many liberties when it rebooted Top Gear, it just didn't get what made people enjoy it so much: a hamster, and orangutan, and an old woman from the late 1800s. It also didn't help that the chemistry between Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc was fairly stale. There's no hiding it with these three, and even though they're good friends you can tell they still annoy the ever-loving hell out of each other. It's a genuine on-screen relationship that LeEvans never had a hope of replicating.
That's what The Grand Tour has to offer, and it might well worth cracking open that free trial of Amazon Prime for.
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