For years, BBC’s Top Gear was considered as the gold standard when it came to motoring shows. Popular to both car enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike, the show virtually changed the way the world looks at motoring shows. A new series that aims to become the new standard in this genre, led by no less than the people who made Top Gear a household name. The Grand Tour is a TV series that aims to take the motoring world by storm. So what is this show all about, and is it as good as the hype might suggest?
For starters, The Grand Tour is a motoring television series filmed for Amazon Video. This show is expected to run for three years, with 36 episodes slated for production within that time span. The first episode was aired on November 18, 2016, which also became Amazon Video’s most watched premiere episode. It was initially available for those with Amazon Prime accounts in the UK, US, Germany, Austria, and Japan, with the show expected to be available worldwide by December.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of this show is the people behind its production. As mentioned earlier, the main cast of The Grand Tour includes the same people behind the massive success of Top Gear. The producer of this show is Andy Wilman, the former executive producer and the brainchild behind the trademark style and humour of Top Gear. And then, there are the three hosts of the show: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May. This time-tested trio serves as the faces of the new show, and by all indications, they remain as spectacular as ever. W. Chump and Sons were the production company behind the show, and Amazon.com is responsible for distribution.
Top Gear, We See You
At first, the intended format for the show would be to mainly utilise location shooting, not far off from what’s being used in television films. However, studio segments were later added to the show, filmed in tents placed in various filming locations. Recordings for the show first started in July, travelling to different countries ranging from the United States to South Africa. More countries are being announced as taping sites for the show, and they should appear one by one as the series progresses.
The content of The Grand Tour is not that far off from other motoring shows. The first part of each episode is the “Conversation Street”, which mainly talks about the latest news about the car industry. In this segment, Clarkson, Hammond, and May go on colourful conversations about these news items. Celebrity guests also appear on the show on a segment called “Celebrity Brain Crash”. In a clear shot against Top Gear’s move to bar stars from appearing in The Grand Tour, these guests are humorously “killed” by the end of their appearance.
Of course, any motoring show would not be complete without test drives. In every episode, Clarkson, Hammond, and May would test a wide variety of cars, most of them being sports cars. The sports cars that enter the show are tested on the “Eboladrome”, a test track specially designed for The Grand Tour. The track was said to be named as such because according to Clarkson, the track “resembles the structure of the Ebola Virus”. The cars are tested on the Eboladrome by Mike “The American” Skinner, with their lap times tallied on a leaderboard to be filled up throughout the running of the show. The role of “The American” here is similar to Top Gear’s “The Stig”.
Even though some watchers would automatically associate The Grand Tour with Top Gear for multiple reasons, much effort has been made by the production crew to make the show different from Top Gear. Both the general format of presentation and the arrangement of the studios were made to look different from their BBC counterpart. However, the comparison between the two shows remains largely inescapable, partly because of the cast and their signature style of presentation. Expect it to be more or less a running topic on both the episodes currently released and the future episodes coming out.
Just how big of a deal The Grand Tour is? A quick look at its impact on Amazon Prime would give you most of what you need to know. Before the announcement of The Grand Tour, not many people knew what Amazon Prime is all about. By the time the show was announced, attention for this online membership program significantly jumped. In fact, the first episode of this show ended up becoming Amazon Video’s most watched episode. It shook the entire platform. That is how high the expectations are for this show. Combine that with people wanting to see what the quartet of Clarkson, Hammond, May, and Wilman will do post-Top Gear, and the hype for this show is certainly quite high.
Watching the five episodes that have just been released, I have made some observations. You may or may not agree with the things that I saw, but for me, these are the specific things that stood out.
1. The Top Gear Quartet is still at the top of their game- Everything we loved about Clarkson and company is still there. The trademark humour, the crazy antics, and even the borderline ridiculous stunts are everything you come to expect from them. It is must-see TV because the show is flat-out fun from start to finish. Hardcore car guys can relate to the features, but even casual viewers can join in and enjoy the show just the same.
2. They present killer cars and killer features – Another great thing about The Grand Tour is that it goes beyond what you expect from a motoring show. Of course, there are the things you come to expect on any motoring show. There are motoring news updates, car test drives and reviews, and the occasional flying lap. And then, there are wacky features that show crazy stuff ranging from experimenting with environmentally friendly car bodies to inflating blow-up dolls using a V8 engine. All in all, each episode is a bundle of fun.
3. The show is suffering from execution issues- Much has been said about The Grand Tour’s poorly executed filming. Episode 2, in particular, stands out regarding this complaint. Many critics say that some of the segments are poorly executed, making the final product appear rather dull. The storytelling of the show can sometimes end up sounding lazy, which is disappointing considering that the brains behind the show are the ones deemed to be the trendsetters in the motoring show genre.
4. The Grand Tour is Top Gear: Rebranded- This element can either mean a right or bad thing for viewers. For those who appreciate watching a motoring show that is reminiscent of old school Top Gear, this show will satisfy you. From the cast to the gimmicks, longtime Top Gear fans still disappointed from the original cast’s breakup will feel nostalgic watching The Grand Tour. Being free from BBC also opens up to more original casting. Many viewers noticed the huge difference, and how it can open up to better quality moving forward.
5. The Grand Tour needs to create its identity- As mentioned earlier, being compared to Top Gear does have its drawbacks. The Grand Tour is a great show, but it has to establish its identity. This is not easy, considering that the brains behind The Grand Tour are the same brains behind Top Gear. Watching the show, you can’t help but think that it’s just a rebadged version of Top Gear. However, for this program to enjoy sustained success, it is a must for them to create an identity that’s separate from Top Gear. It might take time, but it should be doable.
The Grand Tour is a groundbreaking television show, a must-watch for all car enthusiasts worldwide. It signals the return of Wilman, Clarkson, Hammond, and May, and they did so apparently without missing a beat. In spite of the many flaws of the show at the moment, it still has the makings of something great moving forward.
So what do you think about The Grand Tour? Is this motoring television’s next big thing, or is it a mere Top Gear clone that’s only out to recapture the lost glory of Clarkson and his friends? Feel free to share your thoughts; we’ll read every single one of them!