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And they’re off! Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have launched The Grand Tour off the start line, and fans of the three petrolheads can watch the first of series one’s 12 episodes on Amazon Prime.
The critics’ subsequent reviews may not have reached a consensus, but one theme that ran throughout was the feeling that The Grand Tour left the BBC’s reconfigured Top Gear on the hard shoulder.
Ben Travis of The Evening Standard says: “Episode one is a confident opener that leaves the BBC's attempted Top Gear revival in the dust."
Ah, poor old BBC. The opening scenes play out with Jeremy Clarkson handing in his BBC pass as he appears to exit the building for the last time, before catching a flight to America and embarking on a new, thrilling road trip – The Grand Tour.
It suggests that Clarkson, May and Hammond – not to mention the small army of production staff that walked out with them – aren’t looking in their rear view mirror at the BBC: ‘It’s your loss, see if we care.’
From Arizona to Johannesburg
There’s a huge tent for the studio slots. Two tents, actually. As one is being used, another is being flown on and assembled at the next international destination. So while episode one is beamed around the world from Arizona, next week’s show will come from Johannesburg in South Africa.
The tent isn’t the only point of difference between Top Gear and The Grand Tour. There’s a new test track – christened Eboladrome, as it resembles the Ebola virus from the air – and a new racing driver, an American called Mike Skinner. Unlike The Stig, which was not programmed to speak, Skinner comes out with some comic lines as he pounds cars around the circuit.
Praising the work that goes into making the show funny, Jonathan Holes of RadioTimes points out: “Even the new track betrays the serious thought that goes into stupidity: ‘Your Name Here’ corner and ‘The Old Lady’s House’ already hit like in-jokes you’ve been sharing for years.”
Sam Wollaston, writing in The Guardian, sums up why it was more than just pride that created the differences between Top Gear and The Grand Tour. “In the detail, in the format, The Grand Tour is different: there are loads of new ideas here – there had to be, or the BBC legal eagles would swoop.”
Ferrari LaFerrari vs McLaren P1 vs Porsche 918 Spyder
The thrust of the opening show was a race of supercars, against the clock on a sun-drenched track in Portugal, a far cry from the Top Gear venue, in Dunsfold, Surrey. It was between Ferrari’s LaFerrari – ‘the Ferrari the Ferrari’ as James May would put it – Porsche’s 918 Spyder and the McLaren P1.
The three hypercars, which are as powerful, fast and expensive as cars get, are widely billed ‘The Holy Trinity’.
Writing in The Times, Andrew Billen suggests references to The Holy Trinity may be some sort of second coming. “It actually refers to Jeremy Clarkson — a JC crucified, so his followers believe, on the cross of political correctness — and his apostles, James May and Richard Hammond. I am well aware that to criticise these BBC exiles may be to offend against a whole religious cult.”
However, that doesn’t prevent the criticism being shared. Billen says: “It soon becomes clear how few risks the programme has taken — except with Amazon’s money.”
Dan Wootton, the Sun’s Bizarre Editor, disagrees and backs Clarkson, his newspaper’s star columnist: “A £160million investment has made The Grand Tour one of the most exhilarating TV series ever — and I don’t even like cars.”
“These three cars take automotive technology to a new level,” says Clarkson, as he wrestles with the McLaren. The same could be said for The Grand Tour, which has brought new standards of production to the small screen. The editing and special effects, in particular, raise the game.
There are firsts for this sort of show. Such as starting a supercar drag race without the roar of angry engines, as the McLaren and Porsche went head to head in a race using electric power.
The bad points of The Grand Tour
There are also mistakes. Clarkson suggests that the ‘hypercar holy trinity’ is capable of blasting past 200mph “whilst producing fewer emissions than a family saloon.” But if you believe that, you’ll believe that Jeremy is a teetotal vegetarian.
And watching the hypercars duke it out on public roads, as they overtake one another on a bend marked with solid white lines, is not setting much of an example to the show’s more impressionable viewers. Neither is some of the coarse, lazy language.
GQ said it was looking forward to watching the new show shake off its baggage. “It remains to be seen if The Grand Tour will become its own church, but it needs a chance to become its own entity, instead of being compared to what used to be,” says Ally Heath.
In parts it felt disjointed and indulgent, especially the start. But giving the team behind it the benefit of doubt, it’s most likely a reflection of a show that had to be scrambled into production in little time.
It’s worth noting there are some interesting features that come with the Amazon Prime app. The Grand Tour offers ‘General Trivia’ on screen when the episode is paused. For example, it explains how the McLaren P1’s suspension works. Or you can browse a playlist for the accompanying music. What would please fans even more is a sneak peak at the next episode.
Next week The Grand Tour comes from Johannesburg. We’re looking forward to it. Are you?
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