Let’s face it, it’s rare that TV programmes live up to the hype, especially ones featuring three post middle-age blokes talking about cars. But while I thought Top Gear (TG) was getting a bit stale and boring, Grand Tour (GT) – which aired or at least appeared on Amazon Prime on Friday – seems to have rejuvenated Clarkson, Hammond and May.
Maybe they are just sticking two fingers up to the BBC which had no choice in choosing not to renew the Top Gear contract after Clarkson’s fracas with Top Gear producer, Oisin Tymon. Certainly in the opening studio sequences they played up to the fact that May has been fired from just about everything he had ever done and that Hammond’s record at keeping jobs isn’t that much better, all of which was to make the point that Clarkson wasn’t (technically) fired from the BBC.
In a sense, this made the three of them seem much more real and vulnerable. There was a camaraderie among them that’s always been there, but somehow seemed much stronger, like this time it mattered much more. That they have a point to prove.
They all knew their roles on the show – Clarkson the pompous, overblown buffoon, Hammond the over-eager school boy and May the bumbling, thoughtful one. And they played them out to perfection.
There was a light heartedness, comic theme running throughout the show too although at times the jokes did wear a bit thin, especially after the ‘death’ of the first guest – did we really need them to pretend another two reserve guests ‘died’ to get the joke? And similarly the pretend fight with the Americans in the audience over which nation has the best airforce also got a bit dull.
That said, there were some genuinely funny moments including the ‘Eboladrome’, a new racing track circuit that looks like the shape of the Ebola virus, and some of the shows’ ‘stings’ – idents for new features – which were so laughably bad, they were good.
The premise of Grand Tour is of course that the three presenters pitch up in a different location for each show. For the first one it was California, USA while next week it’s off to Johannesburg in South Africa. It’s a clever ploy to get people in those countries involved directly in the show and no doubt drive Amazon sales in those territories too, but it does make for some exciting backdrops, especially the opening aerial shots of this first episode (called Holy Trinity) which were mind blowing in their expanse, as well as their expense.
Which brings us to the show’s production values. I don’t know that much about 4K technology (for a full technical explanation read this piece here in Forbes from my tech journalist friend John Archer), but I do know it looked truly spectacular. The opening sequences across the desert in California were breathtaking as were the shots of the high end hybrids (Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche) around the race circuit in the Algarve. In fact, in places, Grand Tour was truly cinematic with the super wide aspect ratio used to great effect.
Was this the best piece of TV ever? No of course not. In my opinion it was a little too long and a little self indulgent in places. But there’s no doubt that GT was much better than the BBC’s latest TG with Chris Evans, Matt Le Blanc and the rest and better than the last few series of Top Gear featuring Clarkson, Hammond and May too. It looked extraordinary, like the kind of TV programme you might expect from a cash-rich e-commerce company keen to break into the broadcasting arena.
And while the BBC which is funded by the licence payer may not be quaking in its boots, other commercial broadcasters like ITV should be more than a little bit worried about the new broadcasting, or more specifically video streaming, landscape.
The Grand Tour Official Trailer below: