January 31, 2017

The Grand Tour: In Hot Pursuit of Top Gear

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I’m going to start my review of The Grand Tour by talking about the one thing the show’s hosts can’t: Top Gear. Odds are, if you’ve ever been into cars (or had a “petrolhead” friend), you’ve heard of Top Gear, and I don’t mean the American version (that version sucks).

I’m talking about 20 glorious series (which I suppose is British-speak for season) of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May getting up to ridiculous hijinks in even more ridiculous cars on the BBC. Say what you will about the trio’s final stint being “too scripted” or “played out,” but as a whole I remember their time on Top Gear fondly.

After Clarkson got into some trouble and his two cohorts followed him out the door, Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc took over and slowly lost me. For me, the magic of the show was always the dynamic between Clarkson’s energy, Hammond’s wit and May’s cheerful resignation. With them gone, Top Gear quickly fell from the top of my watch list.

Enter Amazon. As one of the flagship programs of their streaming service, Prime Video (which is included with an Amazon Prime membership), The Grand Tour brings the trio back to the screen in what could be called a blatant rip off of the original. Be that as it may, you won’t hear me complaining… much.

While the show is still running on a weekly basis, the first twelve episodes are technically the first season of a 36 episode, three-year plan so it’s a perfect time to reflect on what they’ve done and how they could improve.

It’s great to see the three back together after what many thought would be their last rodeo. Their chemistry hasn’t changed a bit and it’s fun to see my favorite presenters showing off the hottest cars again. One of my favorite changes to the format is their new set. Instead of hosting the show in the same studio every week, the crew has taken to a travelling tent. This season alone they’ve gone to Los Angeles, Johannesburg and Loch Ness just to name a couple. The first season is definitely worth your time if you already have a Prime membership.

However, the series has some fixable flaws that, in my eyes, are preventing it from becoming a membership-seller. My first complaint is “the American.” One of the hallmarks of Top Gear was it’s “hot laps,” where they ran cars around their track to compare them, conducted by a mysterious and mute driver known only as “the Stig.” “The Stig” and the silly facts Clarkson would present about him were clearly the most recognizable feature of the show. “The American,” “the Stig’s” detestable replacement, takes every negative American stereotype to the extreme. Though I can see what they were going for here, in execution it comes across as brash and obnoxious.

Additionally, while on Top Gear it was always fun to see celebrities come into the studio and compete on the track, The Grand Tour’s “Celebrity Brain Crash” was funny at first but quickly lost its luster. And while their weekly short list of comical topics, discussed on “Conversation Street,” can be quite funny, I usually find myself wishing for its time to be replaced with another car test.

Overall, The Grand Tour is a fun watch and a pleasant revitalization of one of my all-time favorite TV shows. Despite the show’s issues, I’m sure the fan community is more than excited to see what the future holds for Clarkson, Hammond and May—whose tomfoolery will continue in the second season, which begins in early February.

Nicholas Smith is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]