The Grand Tour, Amazon Prime's much hyped new series starring former BBC Top Gear stars isn't very good. That statement might be heretical to the rabid fans that have amassed though the world. But the reason for that statement is this, they haven't come close to breaking new ground.
Of course the safe bet would be to ask, why would they? But let’s face it, the best Top Gear Episodes were always the specials. Those episodes of Top Gear pitted Clarkson, Hammond, and May against the Top Gear producers. And this always involved a very long journey across gorgeous locations with generally questionable choices of vehicle. This made for a great combination of comedy, drama, and adventure.
And as the BBC show had a much smaller budget than the new Amazon Prime show, having seen the first 5 episodes I have to wonder where that money has gone. Supposing my imagination is much bigger than what they have delivered, it’s no surprise I am not impressed with what they have done so far. But when I considered the cost of the logistics of moving a huge tent around the globe, their blunder hit me right between the eyes.
Instead of putting the money into the adventures that endeared millions of viewers of the old show to them, they have squandered that money on a traveling studio. The very first episode admittedly cost them a vast portion of their budget. And for what? To mimic a hippy fueled burning man desert rave?
So far the series is almost exactly like the original Top Gear. And while it’s not massively a bad thing, the tired politics and social commentary of the three comes off as atavistic. And rehashing the same joke every episode where they are having a guest on, only to not have a guest as a stunt person performs the star's fake death was funny once. But to do it every episode points to their creative spring drying up. And with the recent Christmas themed episode where they review electronic wheeled items only to be foiled by the difficulty of using them is a rehash from several previous episodes of Top Gear as the trio played Christmas gift reviewer.
Granted as fans of Top Gear, we should be happy these charming Brits are on any screen at all. But they have become so out of touch with reality that even after an overwhelming majority of Brits voted for Brexit, (and subsequently vanquished doom and gloom predictions it would destroy their economy), Clarkson cluelessly supported the globalist view on the subject.
And supporting the globalist view is odd. Because in another episode where they attempt to solve the worlds energy problems by using more sustainable materials for car bodies, they go out of their way to mock environmentalism. In an era when 3D printed cars are emerging, and knowing the 3D printed car material is recyclable, the effort by the 3 was difficult to watch.
And while the idea that CO2, (which humans and animals exhale) as an issue as opposed to car exhaust which is CO1 has come under fire as globalist propaganda, watching James May endlessly dig up the earth to adorn his bodiless Land Rover Discovery was painful. Waste and pollution have never become smart or funny. So as I do give an ear to those who would challenge CO2 as a world eating demon because I understand that plants breath it in, digging up 200 square feet of earth to make fun of hippies just doesn't cut it for me. (Suppose this is for another blog, but the part of the CO2 argument that bothers me so much is that it has distracted millions of people away from regarding plain old pollution as a problem. Clean water for instance has suffered massively as so much attention is on CO2. And again, it kills me no one has parsed the difference between CO1 from cars and 100s of other gaseous toxins produced with CO2. Seems anti-human to me as we need to exhale it to live).
The addition of Mike Skinner known on the show simply as The American is the show's greatest example of the creator’s narrow vision. So they have a track, a driver, and a list of car's lap times around said track. Nothing new here and again, why change the formula that helped them prosper? But instead of the mysterious and odd Stig, The American played by Skinner is a patchwork of dumbed-down cliché. And again, while the initial use of this was funny, watching this jackass lambast any car that isn't an American V8 isn't very funny. And let’s face it, the track they found is insanely boring. And that brings me back to the matter of budget. With all the money they have to produce this show, the track they came up in the UK is small, tracks back on itself, and doesn't have nearly the difficulty as the original track on Top Gear.
At least the attempted reboot of Top Gear with asshat-in-charge Chris Evens attempted to include a rally segment. That was a good idea. But when you look at the Grand Tour track, and think about the fact that with the vast resources of their budget this is what they came up with, makes my head spin with possibilities of tracks just in the USA.
What I found people love about the three is the friendship, comedy, and adventure they present on screen. This is a similar formula that made Lord of the Rings so popular. Everyone loves stories about friends and road trips or adventure. Even the band Rush used a similar formula to allow them a farewell tour with maximized fanfare. Clarkson, Hammond, and May were able to tap into that dynamic with their Top Gear Specials. And even in their regular shows, many of the episodes generally included some sort of adventure. But that dynamic is oddly missing here.
As Grand Tour seems to be going out of its way to make it just a bit different than Top Gear while staying within the context of an automotive journal show, the irony here is, somehow they have missed adventure as a key ingredient. Perhaps the viewers are supposed to marvel at the magnitude of moving their show's studio across the globe in a huge tent and take that as part of the adventure. But so far, nothing new or massively adventurous has happened.
On their one big road trip so far in Grand Tour, they drove through Italy. Even if we had not seen that before when the trio raced across Italy in 3 supercars, the premise of the new adventure was lackluster at best. Pitting one of the world's most unreliable cars, an Aston Martin against the massively expensive Rolls Royce Dawn, and a Dodge Hellcat produced predicted results. The entire journey was filled with rehashed ground where Clarkson and May accuse Hammond of being an American. The attempt that this being an insulting joke is beyond old and failed to get laughter from anyone watching. They first used this joke on the old Top Gear Special when they bought $1,000 cars in Miami and drove them to New Orleans well over 10 years ago. So it seems they have underestimated the memory and intelligence of their audience.
The cinematography in The Grand Tour is a fantastic achievement. Honestly didn't think they could get better that they had on old Top Gear. But the new show finds ways to blow my mind. That is important to point out for a lot of reasons. You can see the effort put into the show by the crew. And hell, as I mentioned the logistics of the show before, and thinking about the producer’s legal hurdles, art, construction, electrical, and camera departments support of this road show is amazing.
But the fact this is a difficult show to produce only makes watching it worse. That’s because with all the opportunities Clarkson, Hammond, and May have at creating a quality show, they seem to wallow in their safe zone. With the scope of the show implied in the name, The Grand Tour, combined with their much hyped budget averaging about 3 million an episode, I expected the series to be one Top Gear Special type show after another. That is where these 3 are at their best. Its grueling and hard on them. But viewing the 3 during these long journeys and seeing the friendship endure only draws us in more. These adventures also limit the time spent beating us over the head with their politics and homophobic world view.
The road trip specials they created in Top Gear are what created their fame and propelled the show to its popularity. Simply rehashing road tests and old jokes doesn't really amount to a grand tour the way the old specials did. And I think my expectations of the new show have in part dissuaded me from boning up $100 to Amazon to watch the new show. I was lucky enough to see it for free with friends at a party. And when you think of the implications of several Top Gear fans getting together to watch 5 episodes of Grand Tour, it gives you an insight into the letdown. Perhaps our own imaginations propelled our expectations to levels that no show could achieve. But, we were all annoyed by the same things I've mentioned, in this article.
The 5 of us at our host's house honestly were not prepared for what seemed to be a mediocre Top Gear season. As 4 of us were already Netflix subscribers and realized we do not have enough time to keep up even with that subscription, we all independently concluded Amazon Prime's price tag wasn't worth it simply to see The Grand Tour.
So gathering together seemed like an exciting and fun way to sample the new show. At one point when Hammond was doing donuts in the Hellcat in Italy someone chimed in, "Better you than me.". And that statement directed at the host unveils the issue with Amazon Prime. Instead of using the pay-per-view model, they have opted for the yearly subscription fee of $100 to be able to view this series.
And while $100 isn't enough to break the bank, it comes off as massively steep for only having interest in one show. And Grand Tour isn't strong enough to justify $100 a year. If the show was a series of Top Gear styled specials, the entertainment value would most likely make sense at this price. But simply rehashing old jokes, pushing horrible points of view, and just making car videos doesn't cut it. For a $100, we all agreed we wanted a series filled with one special after another.
What we loved about Top Gear is still there with The Grand Tour. And, we will most likely get together and watch more episodes of The Grand Tour together. And with that said, I do admit that this review might come off as a bit of a nitpick since I have enjoyed the show thus far. But when you consider the show's budget was increased by a factor of 6 for each episode, merely having Clarkson, Hammond, and May come up with the same old Top Gear, but with a different name, just doesn't cut it. It just doesn't live up to the hype.