WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
Jeremy Clarkson, James May, Richard Hammond, along with Amazon had one of the most unenviable tasks put in front of them. Recreate a cultural phenomenon in the face of overwhelming expectations, and do so without much of the intellectual property that made the old show such a hit. Last night (in the US at least), we finally got a look at how they did. If you don’t care for details, you can stop reading now, it’s brilliant. If you’ve been on the fence bout getting Amazon Prime, this should be the push you need.
The episode starts with an emotional and unexpected intro. It follows Clarkson from walking out of the BBC for the last time, to him making it to the California desert location for the first episode, meeting up with Hammond and May along the way. The whole intro does a great job of changing from a depressed, defeated tone, to one of joy. His reaction upon first seeing his mates on the road left me with no choice but to smile with him. Sure it was scripted, but I think it echoed how many long time fans felt.
From there, the show gets a little more predictable. I’ll admit to hoping the format would be a little more different from Top Gear, but what we got did not at all disappoint. Gone are “The News”, which they jokingly said was coming back in the form of “Conversation Street”. Also gone is the celebrity segment (which I admit I mostly skipped in Top Gear anyhow). When the guys decide to see which hybrid hypercar was the best, the show starts to feel much more familiar. While the format of this segment was more or less what you’d expect, the cinematography took a big step up, as did the overall polish of the show in general.
Also introduced was the new test track, dubbed “The Eboladrome” due its similarity to the shape of the Ebola virus. This looks to have a nice mix of features which will make sure that a car that is fast here does a lot of things well.
The show had a couple misses however. One segment where Jeremy claims the Royal Air Force is the best Air Force in the world led to a mock fight with the audience. That went on a bit too long and I think could have been cut. Also the fake “Celebrity Brain Crash” segment, meant to poke fun at the “Star in a reasonably priced car” feature had three actual celebrity cameos. Each one died before they made it to the stage, but I think we got the joke after the first one and I found myself wanting them to get on with it well before the bit ended. That said, it’s hard to find too much fault here. Despite the history these three have, this is still a new show and I’m sure things will get worked in or out as it progresses. Also as I’ve said, I tended to fast forward the celeb bits on Top Gear, and that was hardly a deal breaker.
What the show does best? It has these three hosts. The chemistry between them is something that you can’t reproduce. This is why Top Gear US never did well, and the new Top Gear UK is not getting the love it once did. With old Top Gear, and now The Grand Tour, it feels like there are 4 old friends hanging out: the three hosts, and the viewer. As with any group of friends, you almost know what someone will say before they say it, but it doesn’t lessen the experience. I’m personally thrilled it’s back and can’t wait for next week.