The new motoring series is entertaining as the crew is able to flex its freedom on Amazon’s Prime Video service.
So, after the Great Fracas of 2015, Jeremy Clarkson and his fellow companions, James May and Richard Hammond, were soon left jobless and entertaining bids from numerous media outlets for a Top Gear-like replacement. In the end, they chose Amazon Prime, where the trio are contracted to produce three 12-episode series over three years, or until Clarkson (inevitably) ends up punching Jeff Bezos in his Seattle office.
The Grand Tour follows a format similar to the one created by the group in the modern iteration of Top Gear: chatty conversations about cars in front of a studio audience, placed between flashy video packages of those same cars racing on empty roads. It’s a simple concept but one that made Top Gear a ratings powerhouse.
What makes the Grand Tour stand out from the trio’s previous efforts is the greater variety in their new adventures. This is down to two things: the freedom given by Amazon to the production team and the brilliant idea of housing the audience in a travelling “tent” in different parts of the world for each episode. The second point demonstrates the cast’s global appeal and the feeling of community, despite most of the action being pre-recorded weeks in advance.
The production values are, unsurprisingly, off the charts and highly stylised. Many sequences apart from the “chat show” segments are displayed in the cinematic 21:9 ratio to reflect this. The folks make sure they include every engine roar and smooth reflection as the supercars zip past dangerous bends in every scenario they’re able to conjure up. However, some of this is clearly pointless.
Although Clarkson and company were at the BBC before, it never felt like the crew were really confined to the body’s self-imposed restrictions as the country’s go-to broadcaster. In fact, it may have even helped, as it feels the pointless explosions have been brought along in full force given the total control granted to them by Amazon. I ended up distracting myself when the Hollywood-style bravado ended up becoming suitable background noise for the times I wanted to reach out for my phone.
During a segment about an Aston Martin (as for what model, who seriously cares?), Clarkson does reach out to his loyal, older fan base by stating, “it’s a celebration of what cars were like in the past.” Nonetheless, their best Top Gear exploits were when they decided to become a (literal) travel show of sorts, with memorable journeys in Vietnam and Botswana, among others.
The Grand Tour still ends up working, despite some of the forced comedic bits and absence of longer segments which would involve celebrity appearances. You can expect to see the same flow and ease with which they all operate, including the famous long pauses.
This was most noticeable when Clarkson is outdoors discussing that same Aston Martin, how its limits were going to be tested by the team, “not with the engine turned down to 500 horsepower, but with the engine turned…to the max.” This series isn’t revolutionary in any significant way, apart from the successful power-grab by Amazon’s streaming service. Nonetheless…it works.