Something About 'The Grand Tour' is Nagging Me


I am completely and utterly a self-confessed Top Gear fanboy. When I first discovered all the re-runs on the UK TV channel 'Dave', I was instantly hooked. I was only about 12 years old at this point, but something hooked me to that show, and I couldn't quite place my finger on why that was so.

Fast-forward to the present day, and I still retain a large amount of affection for the show. I even sat through the entire new series earlier this year, which, if you listen to the hate bandwagons, was no mean feat. Clarkson, Hammond and May had a chemistry that spoke to the audience quite substantially, because it was something they could relate to. It was crude, self-depreciating and slightly bullish behaviour that sent some people running with their fingers in their ears over the lack of political correctness, but others nodding to their 'mates', because they saw the similarities. Down to Earth, if you will.

So of course I was saddened when I heard the news that Clarkson was terminated from his position, but I did understand the situation; punching someone isn't, and probably never will be, OK. But predictably the trio reunited pretty shortly after the drama, and announced they were making their own new show, later revealed to be named 'The Grand Tour', or 'GT' for short. With Chris Evans taking over Top Gear, this was going to be a fiery battle between GT and TG.

Reincarnated Top Gear came first, and it was alright. Loads of people hated it, but you cannot go watching this show expecting the same as the previous presenters. Really, the show should've been completely renamed and re-formatted - that would've avoided the comparisons and potentially heightened its popularity somewhat. Regardless though, I got some enjoyment from the show, but that's most likely just because I like cars. Cars on telly will always please me to some extent. I finished the series with a fair bit of anticipation for the Grand Tour.

After what felt like a complete eternity, the show finally graced us. We were drip fed tiny little details (such as there being a tent, how they're going to globe-trot etc.), but finally in mid-November, it all came together.

The opening sequence was substantial, big-budgeted, and fairly breathtaking. Quite a nice way to introduce the show - or introduce their budget - but it didn't show anything that made Top Gear successful. We had a couple of minutes on a stage in America where the three presenters pandered to the audience with gags and clichés about one another - nothing we hadn't heard before. I was smiling, but out of familiarity rather than outright tickling of the funny bone.

Once we got into the tent, things were a bit weird and unsettling for me. There was a distinct feeling of fakery with this new show. And yes, before you bite my head off, I am well aware Top Gear studio segments were scripted as well. But Top Gear did a far better job of hiding it, and making it appear more organic.

I'm not too convinced just yet

Take the news section, or 'Conversation Street', as it's now called. In Top Gear, you got the impression that the script was some bullet point topic starters and maybe some gags, but the presenters filled the rest in with the banter we know and love between themselves. You often got presenters making hilarious remarks off the top of their head. In the Grand Tour though, each and every word is so painfully scripted, and it's so wooden as well. Clarkson says something outrageous, Hammond points it out, audience laughs. Clarkson shows a car, May makes an old-person comment, audience laughs. It's lacking a soul and feels too robotic for my liking. It's weird though, because technically speaking they aren't doing anything different from TG, but the 'feel' is just completely off.

The VTs are similar in their problems. Once again, I'm aware that a lot of them in TG were scripted to some extent, but you get the sense that when things go wrong, it provokes genuine reaction and laughter from the presenters. The same, however, cannot really be said for the Grand Tour. In episode 3, for example, James goes on about this twitch he gets from Hammond's car. Are we meant to believe that? You could pass it off as a comedic gag, but then you get parts where Clarkson tries to drill it in to the audience by saying things like "No, really, it's genuinely true."

It may still be scripted, but Top Gear did a better job of hiding it

It sounds like I have a complete downer on the GT, but I don't. I'm still highly entertained by it every week, and I'm also well aware we're not even halfway through the first series yet, so I will give it time to get into its stride. But if TG was an 8/10, the GT is perhaps a 6/10 for me. Grand Tour producers, please:

  • Ditch the American
  • Lower audience interaction
  • Ditch the stupid celebrity death gag
  • Loosen up the script, at least in the VTs
  • But keep up the amazing cinematography