By Alex Maldonado
In the automotive world, few names hold as much power as Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond. The trio has been in the public eye for over a decade now; most notably for their roles hosting the British car show, Top Gear. After building up a massive global fan base over the span of twelve years, mixing car news and reviews with slapstick humor and witty banter, the show met an unfortunate end in early 2015. In March of 2015, Clarkson, the lead host, physically attacked one of the show’s producers over an argument about a cold steak. The producer chose not to press charges, but the show’s parent company, the BBC, decided it couldn’t allow Clarkson to get away with is actions.
Clarkson’s contract was terminated and his loyal cohosts left with him. After a several-month-long break, the team was picked up by Amazon Prime to star in an all new car show called “The Grand Tour.” The show is set in a collapsible tent that will be transported from continent to continent, highlighting glimpses of the local car culture and completing Top Gear-esque challenges along the way.
The first episode -set in the California desert during a concert reminiscent to Burning Man- had a record setting opening, bringing in three times as many viewers as the opening for Amazon Prime’s previous leading show, The Man in the High Castle, according to Digital Spy. The debut episode revealed several recycled and renamed segments from their previous show, including a news segment which, due to legal reasons with the BBC, is called “Conversation Street.” Another Top Gear throwback includes testing every new car they get their hands on a private race track with a professional racing driver. The new track is much smaller and simpler than the Top Gear equivalent, though the crew claims it to be significantly more dangerous. The danger doesn’t come from sharp turns, tight hairpins, or steep elevation changes; but from a climate causing regular moisture, uneven and bumpy sections in the tarmac, and even the occasional animal crossing. The Grand Tour also hints at the possibility of doing a celebrity feature segment, similar to Top Gear’s “big star in a reasonably priced car.” However, each time a celebrity is set to be featured on the show, they suffer an inexplicably sudden death, like a parachute not deploying while skydiving into the audience, or being mauled by a lion while walking up to the tent. According to news outlet The Sun, the BBC has threatened the Grand Tour with legal action if the show presents a celebrity interview segment even remotely resembling the recurring Top Gear bit.
Another segment the Grand Tour team is struggling to revive in a non-plagiaristic way is their new car track time test. Previously, the team would turn the keys over to their silent, robotic, “tamed racing driver” called The Stig. The Stig was a fan favorite, never seen without his white racing suit and smoked visor. The Stig was something of a mystery to fans, regularly playing obscure music or sounds as he drove around the test track, and treating things as ordinary as a cellphone as something completely alien. Now, Clarkson and co. are enlisting an almost universally unpopular former NASCAR driver to test the cars. Wesley Wren of Autoweek critiqued the show’s new driver, saying, “[Last week’s] review gets even worse with not-so-tamed racing driver Mike Skinner behind the wheel. In the last episode, we saw the talented driver act like a stereotypical boneheaded American, which even felt stale in a small dose. The writers at “The Grand Tour” must have thought that people simply didn’t get the joke, because they doubled down with the American-isms for Skinner’s segment.”
The Grand Tour isn’t all bad though. Many diehard fans were happy just to see the gang back together, roaring million-dollar hyper cars around a racetrack again. As the show is still in its infancy, it’s clear the crew is still trying to discover what they want to be; what they want to do with their show, and where to go from here. The Grand Tour is something of a second chance for Clarkson, Hammond, and May; and they are still in the process of determining what works and what doesn’t. New episodes premiere every Friday, exclusively on Amazon prime.