Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Grand Tour: Ambitious But Rubbish

Clarkson, Hammond, and May
It has been one week since the final episode of The Grand Tour was released on Amazon Prime Video and since then I’ve had time to consolidate my thoughts on the show.

First, a bit of context. Jeremy Clarkson punched a producer and the BBC had to end his contract. It wasn’t long until Richard Hammond, James May, and Andy Wilman then decided to leave the BBC too and form their own production company with Clarkson. A few months later, Amazon snapped them up to create a car show for their streaming service.

In interviews before the release of the show, Clarkson, Hammond, May, and Wilman attempted to spin a positive view on what they have been making. James May said in an interview with Christian O’Connell, “It’s a relief because it has forced a rethink and it has refreshed us which is something we probably should have done - but which we wouldn’t have done had we stayed where we were because there’d be no incentive to.”

Their new show, The Grand Tour, launched in November and immediately it was far better than Chris Evan’s refreshed Top Gear but far worse than the Top Gear that was relaunched in 2002 by Clarkson and Wilman. Here is what is wrong with The Grand Tour:

Too Scripted
With speculation that Amazon have provided Clarkson, Hammond, and May with a budget far larger than the BBC ever did, they have (presumably) been able to employ new/more writers. Problem is: Clarkson, Hammond, and May are not actors. Jeremy’s opening monologue in each show, supplemented with canned laughter which doesn’t even attempt to appear remotely authentic, is not funny. And, the pseudo-banter exchanged in ‘Conversation Street’ is just awkward. Remember this?

Entertainment First; Factual Second
At least at the BBC they pretended to be a factual show. They justified their crazy trips across India and their races across London and St. Petersburg as pieces mildly resembling public information films. They justified their homemade electric cars, hovercrafts, and emergency service vehicles as possible alternatives to solve the problems of the current ones. Furthermore, they concluded many episodes with ‘Top Gear Top Tips’. Long story short: everything had a point to it. However, on The Grand Tour, hardly anything seems to have a point to it. For example, in episode 2, the boys imitate special forces soldiers for no apparent reason. The cars in the scene feel like they were only added as an afterthought.

Admittedly, shiny red Ferraris do look good, and The Grand Tour will do joys for Amazon’s 4K TV sales figures, however most of the show is three wrinkling, middle-aged men mooching about. Therefore, extremely high picture quality and HDR is certainly necessary. Maybe I’m just bitter I don’t have a 4K TV.

The American
I get he is a Stig replacement but I just don’t get him. Does anyone find him funny?

Midnight Release
The Grand Tour is released on Amazon Prime every Friday at midnight. Online streaming already means that the notion of collective viewing is dead but releasing it at midnight eliminates the hype people have the next day. “OH MY GOD, did you see who/what Jeremy Clarkson insulted last night” is a phrase of the past. I would much rather The Grand Tour be released at 8pm so more people can watch it on release and talk about it straight away – this would probably increase the show’s ratings too. Apart from students, who is up at midnight?

Overall, The Grand Tour is, at best, mediocre light entertainment. I completely agree with a rather scathing Guardian review which singled James May out as the most valuable player but quipped "The Reassembler … is a trillion times better than The Grand Tour."

In other news, the BBC (remember them) released a trailer this week for the new Chris-Evans-less Top Gear. It actually looks half-decent.