‘The Grand Tour’ Episode 1 Review

The new Amazon show from Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May – The Grand Tour – is out, but is it any good?

Published: 21st November 2016

‘The Grand Tour’, the new motoring show presented by Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, has now had its first episode.

Available only to Amazon Prime subscribers, details about the content of the new show were sparse in the months prior to release. Trailers and soundbites indicated that the show would bear similarities to ‘Top Gear’ when it was hosted by the notorious trio – specifically the ‘Top Gear’ specials that focused mostly on car travelling adventures and shenanigans across the world. However, now the first episode is out, the proof is in the pudding. For ALA GAP Insurance, ‘The Grand Tour’ is everything that brought ‘Top Gear’ to global popularity, with all the cars, adventure and antics fans have come to expect from Clarkson, Hammond and May – but with a few differences.

Highly popular format points such as The Stig, the Star in a Reasonably Price Car and the famous Dunsfold race track are gone, as they all still legally belong to the BBC. But the main ingredient of Clarkson, Hammond and May’s undeniable creative chemistry built on what May refers to as a “mutual loathing of each other” is still very much in force on ‘The Grand Tour’. Emanating from a new location in the world each week (this debut episode coming from California), the trio brings us a programme that Jeremy Clarkson described in an interview with Autoblog as ‘shepherd’s pie’. “It’s lamb, not beef,” he said. “It’s still comfort food. It’s still a very nice pie, but it’s slightly different. It has to be, obviously, because the steak is gone.” And this is an accurate summation of ‘The Grand Tour’. It’s all the banter, cars and escapades fans came to enjoy in their millions across the world but dressed up slightly differently.

Amazon kept their cards close to their chest prior to the show’s release in terms of the show’s content. All we knew about the content was that it would feature the former ‘Top Gear’ presenters in both grandiose motoring film segments and studio segments – shot in front of an audience in a massive tent located in a new country each week.

The Grand Tour’s opening scene

As for the debut episode itself, it was as ‘grand’ as the show’s title would have you expect. A hugely over-the-top introduction, featuring a sombre Clarkson handing over his keys as he leaves the “BBC building” (the first of many not-so-subtle-but-technically-legal jabs at Clarkson’s BBC dismissal in the episode) before arriving in the Californian desert with Hammond and May to a huge crowd, performers and even jets flying over a huge stage. Like the jabs at Clarkson’s BBC firing, the sly digs about the things they couldn’t do anymore due to ‘Top Gear’ similarities also came frequently. Perhaps the most humorous of these segments (even if it may have been somewhat over done) saw the trio attempting to get a celebrity in to drive a car á la the Star in a Reasonably Price Car segment from ‘Top Gear’, only for the celebrities to be outrageously killed before reaching the tent. There were many homages like this to the segments that originally brought the three to global notoriety throughout the show.

The Grand Tour’s ‘new’ Format

The Grand Tour’s new Stig-like figure is present in the American NASCAR racer Mike Skinner, a ‘Conversation Street’ segment is used in lieu of a news section and the introduction of the new show test track also features heavily.
Early in the show, we are given a montage of high-octane action that we can expect to see over the next 12 weeks, before an assurance from Clarkson that the first episode is going to be very “car-ry.” This rang true, as most of the episode centred around Hammond, May and Clarkson putting hyper-cars from McLaren, Porsche and Ferrari through their paces in a series of competitive tests and drag races on a track in Portugal, culminating in a high-stakes bet.

The photography throughout the episode is stunning, making it clear why Amazon were so adamant on producing the show in 4K definition. All the old ‘Top Gear’ humour and chemistry remains, just with a new bow on top. Naturally of course, as the first episode is in California, there are plenty of barbs from Clarkson, Hammond and May about how superior the British are compared to the Americans, leading to some heckles and a faux fight. It’s all very entertaining stuff – and VERY ‘Top Gear’.

It feels quite safe to say at this point that we can expect similar from upcoming episodes, though with perhaps more of an ‘adventure’ feel of the old ‘Top Gear’ special episodes. Global locations confirmed to host ‘The Grand Tour’ crew over the coming weeks include Johannesburg (specifically for episode two), Germany, Finland and Nashville, Tennessee.

The Grand Tour’s future

‘The Grand Tour’ executive producer (and former ‘Top Gear’ executive producer) Andy Wilman stated that he hopes that ‘The Grand Tour’ episodes will “have a good shelf life”, much like the reruns of ‘Top Gear’ still being broadcast on Dave. If the first episode is anything to go by, this expectation is likely to become true. Although signed up for twelve episodes a year across a three-year period, ‘The Grand Tour’ has only been released to Amazon Prime members in the UK, USA, Germany and Japan (for now at least, until a worldwide launch in December) despite the global appeal of ‘Top Gear’ when hosted by the trio. It’s respectable to see a certain humility in their hopes to reach a global audience again organically without forcing it. While the show retains a lot of the old ‘Top Gear’ charm, Clarkson, Hammond, May and Wilman are all very much aware that in many ways they are starting again and must be willing to try new things and “embrace failure” in Wilman’s words. With this attitude, a hugely entertaining and tongue-in-cheek first episode and the high promise of things to come shown by the debut episode, it seems like ‘The Grand Tour’ has many, many more miles to come in its future.

Click here to read more: Entertainment from ALA Connect.

Published: 21st November 2016
Similar articles...