Before I sat down to watch the The Grand Tour, I wanted to avoid resorting to the inevitable list of comparisons which would be made between it and both the old and revamped Top Gear.
Instead of getting sucked into a debate over which is better, why not take accept the joy of having more great motoring shows and treat each on their own terms. But after watching this first episode, I hit a problem. I couldn’t get past the feeling I was watching Top Gear … and I’m cool with that.
Besides the core trio of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, the basic format of the show has been largely carried straight over with some tweaks to differentiate itself somewhat. Examples include The News being renamed Conversation Street and the new test track containing some very similar corners albeit with the added danger (as Clarkson puts it) of sheep. Most of these changes are of minimal consequence besides making the show that little bit more brash and bonkers. It has to be said that the use of a moving tent in place of a studio is simple genius for a show like this and it was enjoyable to see them have fun with the now run-down celebrity segments.
The show (and arguably Amazon) almost revels in being compared with its BBC counterpart, even opening with a reminder of why Clarkson was in this position in the first place (if you somehow missed it the first hundred times). Thankfully these were never taken too far to the point of feeling cheap or tasteless.
But there is one less explicit element which hits particularly hard.
This first instalment was, by the crew’s own admission, considerably more car heavy than the remainder of the series. That may sound odd for a show dedicated to motoring but it actually means a great deal. Put simply, besides introductions, we have an hour dedicated mostly to road testing. Specifically, the score is finally settled hybrid hypercar is best: the McLaren P1, Porsche 938 or Ferrari La Ferrari. The new Top Gear, despite its glaring flaws, still contained some strong moments when it stopped trying to imitate the lunacy of Clarkson and crew and focussed on the serious. In a way, this was the Grand Tour’s form of elbow jabbing; a way a saying that these may be three madmen, but they can still nail motoring journalism with or without the BBC.
Just like before, The Grand Tour is at its best when Clarkson, May and Hammond are left to their own accord. Though this new show is unlikely to change your opinion of them, it is difficult to deny that their interactions and chemistry drive the show. Though some of the more scripted gags don’t quite come off, this remains a smooth transition indeed. All that remains is to see what happens when the trio’s Amazon-fuelled budget is unleashed on some real mayhem.