We're now nine episodes into the first series of The Grand Tour, the show put on by the former Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond (along with most of the old staff, crew, etc.). Two of them (7 & 8) were a special, which consumed both episodes in their entirety and thus eschewed the usual format. So, what do I make of this?
Well, as someone who loved their version of Top Gear, I'm fine with it. I wanted the boys doing their thing, and that's what I've gotten so far. It's not perfect, as there is considerable room for improvement, but this new show is scratching that itch and I want more. I want Amazon to sign on for another series, at the very least.
But, as I said, some bits clunk and they clunk hard:
- The American: The Grand Tour can't use The Stig, but they still need a professional driver for their timed laps, so they hired a NASCAR professional and let him exaggerate himself for effect as he drives around the track. It's not working. I'm not laughing. I should be laughing, and I can't tell if the material is lame or the delivery of it sucks. If this can't be fixed, sack him and get a funnier driver; this is a television show for entertainment and not a documentary presentation, so this does matter.
- The Track: The show can't use their own old--that's with Top Gear also--so they have a smaller facility at their disposal for running timed laps on the cars that they feature and test. What makes those segments work is Clarkson's voiceovers, as they involve standing jokes that refer to the old track, but Clarkson's retorts at The American's cracks are a double-clunk of suck. The track needs to be better presented, and that lies with the cinematographer more than anyone else, because you can make it interesting- yet it hasn't quite delivered to date. Work on what we see, and try again.
- Celebrity Brain Crash: This is a running gag poking fun at the old Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment on the old show, wherein someone famous is announced, and then doesn't appear because of a comic fatality. It's worked a few times early on, especially in the first episode, but they got lazy fast and now it's cringe-worthy. If you're not going to bother doing it well, dump it, because it's obviously shit when you don't. The follow-up, which is usually half-assed joke merchandise, did not get me laughing.
Best recurring parts? Sure:
- The Tent: The show's host location moves (more or less; they spent two weeks in one place in the U.K.) around the world, shooting out of a big pavilion tent. The setup is even part of the show's opening credits, down to a running gag about the drone used for aerial shots being knocked out of the sky by something typically local. It is a real tent, in a real location, and yet it remains a fully-functional TV studio. Fantastic choice and it's made each episode wherein its featured (i.e. not the recent special) look and feel like you're along for the ride.
- Conversation Street: This works, especially with the graphic often setting the tones for the jokes thereafter. Often using local stories (well, relatively local) for fodder, and sometimes audience participation (which doesn't always go as the hosts would like), this is their excuse for a lot of typically British comedy using a soft panel format and it works.
- The films: The actual "drive around with cars" bit is what they did on the old show, only with a bit more obvious absurdity to them. This gets cranked up for the special, and while it doesn't always work when it does it is hilarious. The show knows that you're not naive about how television works, and these winks and nobs are there to let you know that they know that you know and why not come along for a laugh. Good move on their part, as it fosters audience loyalty- and that means dedicated viewership eager for more.
So, there you have it: The Grand Tour delivers, but has room to improve. I would recommend watching this show if you enjoyed their version of Top Gear, but if you're not that into this sort of blend of British comedy and car fandom you may not enjoy it.