Man, we’re 10 days in already? Sure as hell doesn’t feel like it. But for today’s post, I really wanted to write some shit about The Grand Tour, especially after the critical reboot of Top Gear for the 2nd time.
There’s a good reason I never got around to reviewing all 12 episodes of The Grand Tour. I’m going to level with you here… I just lost all motivation. Which is sort of ironic, because I think Hammond, Clarkson, and May did too.
I’ll save you some reading time. The Grand Tour as a whole wasn’t bad. Far from it. Especially towards the end, the series had a good four or five genuine 8-8.5/10 episodes. That’s normally a pretty good hit-rate, but for every high, there were some awful lows, like the special over New Year’s being boring as hell, like the coral reef shit, or rehashing of jokes like the hidden message in the jumpers, or Richard Hammond being a 45-year old man-baby by comparing ice cream to sucking a dick.
The Grand Tour was decent. But it was frustrating as all hell. Why? Because the show lacked the one major thing above all else going for it… the passion. It felt like three old guys who were just in it for the cheque.
Why does this bother me, so much? Because for those who don’t know, I’m a MASSIVE Top Gear fan. Saw every single episode of the original 2002 reboot. I remember when friggin’ Jason Dawe was the Series 1 host. I’ve said for years, this version of Top Gear was the greatest TV show ever made. Why? Because it was a car show, the most niche of concepts, and it found a way to appeal to almost every demographic. It had incredible chemistry, they were unafraid of pissing people off, and most importantly… you didn’t have to be a car fan to enjoy it because it was funny, charismatic, entertaining, beautifully shot, and always, ALWAYS greater than the sum of its parts.
The Grand Tour isn’t that. It just isn’t. Very occasionally, you could see elements of that creep into the limelight. The Ferrari vs Ford Le Mans segment. Elements of the Holy Trinity and some of the 4K imagery. Driving through the set of Game of Thrones. And then you get a knob joke, or them rehashing the same shit they did on the old show, 5 years prior, just with a bigger budget.
I thought this move to Amazon might be the best thing to happen to the trio. The BBC has only gotten tougher in recent years in terms of comedic content, like Frankie Boyle being axed from Mock The Week, and Top Gear was getting more and more complaints, as late as Season 21 and its use of the word “slope” in the context of Burma. Going to Amazon and the open Internet felt like a game changer. No real limits. Insane budget. Creative freedom. Not to mention, the very concept of falling up after Clarkson punched a dude in the face while on the job.
Turns out, all this move did, was just prove that Clarkson, Hammond, and May are probably the worst thing you can be when you run any institution… content. See that above paragraph? Dreamland. They were never thinking in that way. This wasn’t about potential. The Grand Tour has shown that *this* is all they had left. This was it. The twilight zone for one of TV’s finest dynasties, 14 years after it was first brought together. And that makes me very sad. Like The Simpsons, or that rock singer who can’t hit the high notes anymore. The tune is still there, but you know deep down it just isn’t the same.
And you know what… it’s partly our fault. We as an audience were content too. No-one serious asked for change. We were just excited to see them back on the TV. It’s hardly a coincidence 1,000,000 called for their show back after Clarkson was pushed out of the BBC’s door. When the convenience strikes, we as consumers are very good at differentiating the person from the entertainment they produce. Like Clarkson, PewDiePie, Nepenthez, or The Syndicate Project, the moment our entertainment becomes compromised, we light the pitchforks and throw a barney before you can say the word “offended”.
I remember with Episode 4, the awful shit with the environmentally friendly cars, where I talked about how bad it was and how everyone else seemed to love it. Or seeing the Season 23 of Top Gear trailer on Facebook and it being shit on by so many people SIMPLY for not being the original three hosts, like they were victims, when the true victim, was punched in the face over something as trivial as a steak.
Why innovate? Or try to improve? Why push the margin when your fanbase is more than happy that you’re just happy to be here? That’s why The Grand Tour annoys me. More than anything else, it just comes across as three slightly bitter old men rake in that Internet money, mock their former employers at every different opportunity, and basically treat this like a retirement party as they tour the world.
Then you look back at the BBC. And while they have been far from perfect, they tried to be different. Tried to mix things up, and put on a fresh show that could capture the next generation of fans. Would you have ever guessed three years ago that Top Gear would be hosted by Chris freakin’ Harris?! Two people of colour and an American hosting the biggest TV franchise that isn’t staging a Winter-themed war. And they have me more excited for Top Gear than anything Clarkson, Hammond and May have done in five, maybe six years.
It frustrates me because I fear no matter how hard LeBlanc, Reid and Harris work, they’ll never get their true credit because they’re in the fan-created shadow of the Clarkson juggernaut. The same man who killed the 90’s format when he left back then too, the power of one of this country’s greatest broadcasters.
But that’s where we are. I’ll probably end up watching The Grand Tour’s 2nd season. Because a part of me still wants to see the original trio rediscover that passion, that flare that got me hooked on their show in the first place. But the realist in me fears that could end up feeling like I’m on a stupidly dangerous narcotic. Because for me, there’s no greater danger in TV, than playing it safe.