TV I’m Watching: The Grand Tour

By Shamus
on Sep 24, 2017
Filed under:
Television

Before we can talk about The Grand Tour, we have to talk about Top Gear.

Top Gear was a strange show. At it’s high point it was the most widely watched factual TV program in the world. The show began in 1977 as a fussy, just-the-facts automobile program. Based on the clips I’ve seen on YouTube it had a dash of humor, but it was still dedicated to something approximating automotive journalism. The show died out in the 90s and was then rebooted in 2002. The new version of the show was a little slicker and maybe had a little more joking around, but it was still trying to review cars and discuss motoring news.

Over the next decade the humor element of the show grew. It became more about the hosts and less about the cars. The cast seemed to go through a certain degree of flanderization. Jeremy Clarkson got more bombastic. James May became even more of a fussy old man. There was a proliferation of short jokes about Richard Hammond.

BBC was in a strange spot. They had the most popular television show in the world, but the show also caused a lot of controversy and complaints, usually (but not always) due to Jeremy Clarkson’s big mouth. I can’t begin to sum up the differences the two had, but they were far-reaching. In 2015 after numerous disagreements and warnings, Clarkson finally went too far and the BBC dumped him. Hammond and May jumped ship shortly after, along with the fourth invisible member of the team, producer Andy Wilman.

Amazon hired the four of them and created the on-demand series The Grand Tour. It’s the same basic setup: Clarkson, Hammond, and May drive all kinds of vehicles in far-flung locations while making fun of each other. The budgets were bigger than ever. They were free to go anywhere you could physically get a production crew and dick around with stupidly expensive cars. No more fussy BBC management to placate.


Link (YouTube)

And yet, I think something was lost in translation. The Grand Tour makes for grand television, but it’s not quite as good as the best bits of Top Gear. I think shedding the veneer or journalistic legitimacy hurt the humor. In Top Gear it looked like they were screwing around while they were supposed to be doing a car show, which gave everything a subversive vibe. Meanwhile, the Grand Tour is a show explicitly about screwing around.

It’s a bit like the jump from Saints Row 2 to Saints Row 4. The first pretends to be a standard GTA clone but then subverts those expectations for laughs, while the second is just wall-to-wall silly. Both are good, but I like the subversive version a little better.

The second season of Grand Tour will drop this November. I’m looking forward to seeing if they tilt back towards pretending to cover cars or if they go for full-on gonzo tomfoolery. I’m sure I’ll watch it either way.

EDIT: Updated with link to the incident that got Clarkson sacked.

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From the Archives:

  1. Echo Tango says:

    On its surface, The Grand Tour sounds like the thing I liked the best about Top Gear – the races in far off lands, with interesting vehicles. However, if the new show feels like a bunch of for-the-wackyness episodes, I’m a bit hesitant to actually spend the time with it. I really liked the races where they had a limited budget, and some geographic challenge. For example, the desert-of-death race where they had to strip down their cars for weight to not break through the sand-bubble crust. It showed their mechanical car knowledge and ingenuity on top of their skill at driving. The trailer for this new show…just looks like them driving expensive cars around. :|

    • MichaelG says:

      That whole season (season 10) was wonderful. Botswana race, London race, amphibious cars, motorhome racing, the 24-hour endurance race! IMHO, it was their best season. I’ve enjoyed later episodes, but I think the life steadily drained out of it. The problem with Grand Tour isn’t the lack of “journalism”, but the fact that they are just tired of it after 20 years.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      That’s fine until you figure out that a LOT of it is planned. I mean for one much of the challenges involve intentionally gimping one of them (usually May) in some sort of ridiculous fashion, or gimping the public transportation so that the car arrives first. Or that a lot of time when you see them trundling down some unkempt road there is probably a normal road going their way, but they go for the terrible one because it’s more exciting.
      It makes for quite exciting and fun television, but the only unscripted part is probably SOME of breakages and some of addlibbed banter between the host which is the soul of the show.

      As for season 2, I don’t know about sports cars, but they did have I think quite a few segments whee they drove junkers somewhere so that’s unlikely to change.

      • Echo Tango says:

        Having read through the comments[1], I’m retroactively disappointed by Top Gear now. I know TV has to have drama for the ratings, but I wish there were disclaimers on the shows stating what was real and fake, for those of us that want to know what’s actually real. :S

        [1] And also remembering some similar things I read a couple years ago.

        • I find the parts where they make fun of “green” cars and apocalypse preppers to be tedious and unfunny (and not because I’m an environmentalist, I sort of agree with them in some respects, it’s just REALLY NOT FUNNY). I do like how they commit to pretending to kill a celebrity every week.

          I really liked the segment on Ford vs. Ferrari (so much so that I rented a documentary called the 24-hour War about the whole Le Mans race thing. Good documentary.) I liked the buggies across the Namibian desert.

          I kind of felt like they were finding their feet with the first season, but there were more than a few times when I just burst out laughing. And I found some interesting stuff, too. So I call that a win.

      • Thomas says:

        The mix of realism and fakery on Top Gear is so frustrating. Some things obviously staged turn out to be real – like when the Stig got stopped by the police and refused to speak to them. And some things real turn out to be staged – like when the producers ran down the batteries of the electric cars so that they’d run out and they could pretend the cars didn’t have enough capacity.

        Sometimes the races are just a bunch of disjointed shots (the BMX ‘race’) and other times they genuinely go to one of the polls.

  2. Jokerman says:

    she* is supposed to be “the” right? That mistake could get you in trouble haha

  3. Sarfa says:

    To be fair to the BBC, when they sacked Jeremy Clarkson he had physically assaulted a producer. It wasn’t due to the years of stuff he’d said, it was because physical violence was a bridge too far.

    • Ardis Meade says:

      That was I popped down here to say. Framing the split as “they never got along”, is disingenuous. Clarkson physically assaulted another staff member. Even Clarkson admitted that was unacceptable behavior.

      • Shamus says:

        “disingenuous” would imply that I was deliberately misleading you. Which is not the case. I just didn’t care to spend more time on it. Like I said, “I can’t begin to sum up the differences the two had.” I put there to let you know there’s a lot more to the story and I wasn’t interested in researching it all and writing about it, because that entire section was ALREADY a digression from talking about Grand Tour.

        • Sarfa says:

          In the UK Top Gear was promoted for years on the basis that you never knew what out there and poor taste thing Clarkson was going to say next! So while he got quiet warnings about picking out number plates to reference the Falklands War for filming the Argentina special (which led to the entire crew being pulled out of Argentina before they had finished filming) or saying truly vile things about the portion of the UK’s population that happened to be from the second largest of the UK’s constituent nations, those antics always had the BBCs tacit approval.

          They may have condemned some of his more outrageous comments, but as long as he apologised when he went too far (however disingenuously) the BBC were always happy to then promote his show on the basis that he wasn’t going to change. That is, a lot of the time it looked like those previous incidents that he got “warned” for were essentially used as ways to promote Top Gear.

          The years of warnings and disagreements you refer to didn’t really happen in many meaningful way- he got a tiny slap on the wrist if he went too far or promoted drunk driving in Australia, but there was never any question of actual consequences for anything he did. It was always dismissed as “boys will be boys, and that’s why people watch Jeremy Clarkson anyway!”. Until he got physically violent.

          And because this is how it looked in the UK is probably the main reason myself and others went into the detail of what happened to get him sacked. It never looked like the BBC really cared what he was doing until they sacked him- which is poor talent management. After years of light slaps on the wrist for what he said and did, no wonder he thought he could get away with anything. But to many it looked like “the differences the two had” were a couple of moments the BBC more or less turned a blind eye to, and an assault.

  4. Kathryn says:

    I also think Top Gear was better, for the same reason you cite. I kept falling asleep watching The Grand Tour (we have a 16mo, so last year, I fell asleep anytime I sat still for 5 min), so I haven’t analyzed any more specifically, but I can offer this comment: the Top Gear India Special wasn’t good because it was too obvious everything was staged. I mean, of course I know everything is staged, but the three are good enough actors that I can usually suspend disbelief and go along with the idea that this really is supposed to be car journalism. The India Special, for whatever reason, didn’t allow that.

    Clarkson’s episode of QI (a show I really wish BBCA could pick up…I believe the issue is copyright, because they use a lot of song and image snippets they couldn’t use in the US*. Bits of it are on YouTube, but of course there is no captioning) was apparently so controversial it couldn’t be aired…

    *Whenever the Top Gear team goes to a workshop to modify their cars, the music that’s supposed to be playing is the A-Team theme. In the US release of the DVDs, they have to change it to something else.

  5. Al__S says:

    To be very clear- the reason the BBC let Clarkson go was because he assaulted a producer. Generally speaking in most organisations punching a colleague in the face is a sacking offence.

  6. BlueHorus says:

    Huh. Have to say I’m a little bit disappointed in you, Shamus. I really didn’t like Top Gear and what it stood for, and from what I’ve heard the Grand Tour is a continuation of a lot of that.
    (I know, I know, however will you survive the mild disappointment of a random nobody on the internet!?!?!)

    The car-related hijinks were almost always staged and predictable, more often than not as genuine as your average Reality TV show. The information about cars was better, but the presentation and commentary came across like little more than macho car-fetishism, just shy of actually saying ‘this car makes my penis feel bigger, ho ho!’.

    Meanwhile the main presenters had lowbrow banter (HA HA HE’S OLD, HA HA HE’S SHORT), and Clarkson in particular is well known for racist or mysogynist comments (in typcal fashion, usually dismissed as ‘just a joke’ or ‘straight talking’) as well as being an arrogant and not-especially-clever dickhead.
    All of which was paid for by the taxpayer.

    …and it was one of the most popular programmes on the BBC. I remember wondering If I genuinely was an from another planet when I heard that. At least The Grand Tour is privately funded, I guess.

    /rant.
    :$

    • Droid says:

      Oh, no! The mild disappointment curse! Please don’t, you have no idea what you’re inflicting on Shamus!

    • Zak McKracken says:

      I didn’t watch Top Gear much, but knew a few people who did, and my view was similar: This show is concerned mostly with … “manly” cars, and with making fun of “unmanly” cars. This is the thing that all those guys (they were all male) watched who kept telling me that my car was to small and acted as if it was some kind of obligation to drive the fastest, strongest and biggest car you can afford, while I bought the smallest, most economic one that was able to fit as much stuff as I thought I’d have to fit in there, and no more. And I drive it to minimize consumption.

      That was framed by those people as some sort of betrayal of the concept of what having a car was supposed to be about…?

      I know I’m conflating how some people acted towards me with some TV show I only watched for a few minutes but it seems like the whole car-as-penis-enlargement culture really has a cornerstone in this show, and I’ve had a hard time with some representatives of this group.

      ==> so, yeah, I can’t see much good in this show.
      If you buy a car to have fun with, I won’t stop you, but don’t complain about people who have different priorities.

  7. Nixorbo says:

    The best parts of Top Gear, according to Word of Nix, were when they were given a comically small amount of money to buy a car to do something comically ridiculous. The second best parts of Top Gear were the moments of three people who have been friends for entirely too long are dicking around with each other on-camera but off-script. Hopefully Season Two of Grand Tour will have significantly more of both than S1.

  8. DW says:

    This isn’t a major issue, but it’s “the BBC”, not just “BBC” like it would be with CNN, ABC e.t.c. in the US.

    (I can’t believe I’ve been reading this site for years and years, and this pedantry is how I make my first comment…)

    • Shamus says:

      “I can’t believe I’ve been reading this site for years and years, and this pedantry is how I make my first comment”

      In fairness, it’s a pretty big indicator you’ll fit right in. :)

    • Philadelphus says:

      While we’re showing off our pedantry, “etc.” comes from the two Latin words “et cetera” meaning “and the rest”, so punctuating it as “e.t.c.” doesn’t really make much sense, syntactically. Though I guess to be fair it’s often written a lot of different ways with little consistency in punctuation or syntax. (Etcetera, etc., &c., …)

      (“Et”, poorly handwritten, is where we get the ampersand sign from [&], which is where “&c.” comes from.)

    • DanMan says:

      I’m genuinely curious about this. I’ve consumed a bunch of British entertainment, and I understand that they always refer to it as “The BBC”. However, isn’t it just “BBC News”? Do they drop the “the” when there’s another word after it?

      • BlueHorus says:

        You’re right.
        It’s the BBC, unless you’re talking about a program, like BBC news, etc.
        Here is why.

        • Droid says:

          Thank you for this enlightening link! I presume the explanation given comes naturally to British people, but for foreigners, it’s nice to have it spelled out.

        • Richard says:

          It’s because “BBC” is an acronym of “British Broadcasting Corporation”, which would be poor English without the “The”.

          Whereas “BBC News” is the title of the BBC news programme, which is of course the news from the BBC.

          The BBC is also known as “Auntie”, so BBC News is usually read by the man or woman from Auntie, not to be confused with the man from U.N.C.L.E, which was a US programme shown on the BBC in the late 1960s.

          • BlueHorus says:

            Yeah, what he said.

            The BBC news example works either way, which initially baffled me. (Hence my super-helpful link), but the corporation has several radio and TV channels, which don’t use ‘the’.
            (BBC 1, 2, 3 etc.)

            Ultimately I think it’s more about the culture than the specific grammer rules – the BBC is a public service broadcaster, funded by a rolling contract of taxpayer’s money: it’s more of a ‘national institution’ than most other broadcasters.

  9. Christopher says:

    I haven’t gone out of my way to watch Top Gear, but I did always enjoy whenever I caught an episode. It’s a show I could reasonably trust to have at least one segment where they tried driving a regular sized car up a mountain on a pathway about half as big as the car, or race horse riders and hunting dogs across a field. Or to put it another way, as a guy who doesn’t care about cars, I thought it was a really fun car show.

  10. Rory Knox says:

    Jeremy Clarkson assaulted his own producer and insulted him specifically because of his Irishness. In a just world Top Gear would have been his last ever job in television. Do everyone a big favour and don’t legitimize his behaviour by promoting his work.

    • Shamus says:

      Should I also stop watching Christian Bale movies? Because we have footage of him being abusive. Hitchcock was reportedly a terrible creep. There are rumors that Russel Crowe has threatened people, so I guess we should expunge Gladiator from the world.

      Or maybe we should keep our views of the person separate from the project.

      Barring that, maybe you shouldn’t introduce yourself to my site by telling me what I should write about.

      • Michael says:

        I mean, while i agree that Rory’s post was more aggressive than needed, I think that when someone’s views are actively intruding into their work–as you alluded to with your comment about Clarkson’s “big mouth”–that trying to separate their views from their work is just tacitly accepting those views. Like, it would be one thing if he just made bigoted statements in his personal life, but to my understanding, he did so as part of the show. That makes it something that i think should be addressed. If he still is doing so in this new show, it’s very pertinent to any review or discussion of the show to note, while if he no longer does so, then that’s also pretty important to note when comparing the two shows, I’d say.

        For that matter, i think when it comes to your understandable wish to avoid political debates* in the comments, addressing the matter with something like ” making jokes many consider to be sexist, racist, or otherwise bigoted, but that argument is beyond the scope of this article, and the comments below. Its a valid discussion point, but take it to another site, please.” would have made the matter more or less moot.

        *While i personally don’t think “people who make sexist or racist comments are assholes” should be considered “political”, i can admit that unfortunately it is

        • Liessa says:

          Rory’s comment was harsh but he does have a point: Jeremy Clarkson was sacked by the BBC because he physically assaulted a Top Gear producer, not because of ‘controversy and complaints’ (though I’m sure many people were glad to see the back of him). Here’s a link to a BBC article on the subject:

          Jeremy Clarkson apologises to Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon

          Personally I think Clarkson is a troll and an arsehole, but I don’t think that in itself is necessarily a good reason to fire him. Physical violence, however, is a completely different matter. I wouldn’t want to ‘tell Shamus what to write about’ – even as one of his Patreon supporters – but it would be nice if the article were amended to acknowledge this.

      • Rory Knox says:

        To start from the bottom up, you can write what you like, but if you feel like you can’t write about TGT without promoting I’d say you’re grossly undervaluing your own not inconsiderable talents. A simple line saying ‘I can accept & respect that people might not want to follow Clarkson after what he did’ would cost nothing and do an awful lot. (Also to actually address what he did rather than letting a hyperlink do your work for you).

        As for the rest, let’s just be super clear here: Clarkson got gee-eyed while on a location shoot and tried to demand food from his hotel at an ungodly hour of the morning. When his producer, Oisín Tymon (a man who earns a fraction of his salary to make him look good) tried to ameliorate the situation and get the angry drunk primadona to bed, Clarkson punched him in the face and called him a ‘Lazy Irish Prick’ (and let’s not get into the historical bigotry that brings to mind) trying to equivocate that with Christian Bale flipping out at a lighting guy on set during a rehearsal take is pretty disingenuous.

        But yes I do feel like we should hold entertainers to a higher standard than we do. Behaviour like Clarkson’s would see him ostracized from many other industries, the fact that he was immediately snatched up for a new show (and a flagship one for Amazon Prime at that) looks a lot like vindication for what he did and that’s just a little bit sickening

        • BlueHorus says:

          None of which is new. Sadly.
          Castigating Shamus for not saying something that several people in the comments have already said is – at best – just kinda pointless. His lack of (in your view) appropriate condemnation for Clarkson is a tiny drop in the massive ocean that is the problem.

          I probably agree with you: Clarkson is a tool and a troll and lots of other bad things, and the fact that he gets rewarded for that by being given a salary and a TV show where he gets to drive fast cars is really galling to me.
          But famous people have been getting away with awful things thanks to their fame since…well, since the invention of famous people.
          It’s shit, but it ain’t gonna change, especially not due to internet comments aimed at someone only tangentally related.

          • Rory Knox says:

            Every little helps. To give an example, it’s rare to see a discussion of a Woody Allen film that doesn’t include some recognition of his disgusting history. That’s altered the way we talk about his work. In a way, when we recognise that these things have happened we actively move the discussion on to the merits of the art or entertainment itself. When we don’t the silence speaks volumes and overwhelms any additional discussion.

            On a side note I think perhaps you think I’m taking a harsher view of Shamus then I am. I’ve a ton of respect for him, but he doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have sole claim to writing robustly or with conviction.

            • Matt says:

              I don’t think it is necessary to preface any discussion of work by a controversial figure with a rote condemnation of the author’s behavior or comments. Do we all have to be reassured that “assaulting a producer is bad and Clarkson is a bad person” before we can actually talk about the show? Of course, if you DO want to talk about the behavior or incident, then do so in a separate piece.

              I find it rather annoying that we can’t discuss Woody Allen’s many brilliant films without a tiresome aside about some decades-old sordid details largely unrelated to the work you are trying to discuss.

              • Rory Knox says:

                I find it rather annoying that we can’t discuss Woody Allen’s many brilliant films without a tiresome aside about some decades-old sordid details largely unrelated to the work you are trying to discuss.

                Can’t you just ignore the asides then? Or take them as a sign that whomever’s Annie Hall review you’re reading they’re probably not on the same wavelength as you anyway? Or is it less about annoyance and tiresomeness, than discomfort at having your positive memories of Diane Keaton in waistcoats associated with the reality of the lives Allen destroyed.

                Similarly when we ignore or undersell Clarkson’s actions are we just looking for a way to continue to enjoy our Dad-friendly comfort TV without the specter of the hosts very real racism and bigotry spoiling the fun?

                • Shamus says:

                  “Similarly when we ignore or undersell Clarkson’s actions are we just looking for a way to continue to enjoy our Dad-friendly comfort TV without the specter of the hosts very real racism and bigotry spoiling the fun?”

                  You say that like it’s a bad thing. Why would you want to ruin someone’s fun?

                  “I’m mad that you keep bringing this up! Let me enjoy my show!”

                  “I’m mad that you’re not angry about this issue! I demand you be outraged with me!”

                  I am officially sick of people being mad about people being mad about people being mad. Thread over. Go be angry someplace else.

  11. ghost says:

    If you like car shows with people with personalities, go watch Roadkill. Its a bunch of folks who have been associated with motortrend over the years going and having fun with old cars. It started as them taking a car that shouldn’t have ever run again, hacked it together enough to run, and then did a road trip where it broke down repeatedly and they fixed it. Its low budget, genuine, and a lot of fun to watch. And if you aren’t careful, you might actually learn some useful stuff about cars too. You can find a bunch of the episodes for free up on youtube. It really is worth a watch.

  12. ehlijen says:

    By all accounts Clarkson was an ill-tempered man, but a fun actor to watch.

    What drove me away from the show, though, was when a friend told me about this:
    http://www.wheels24.co.za/News/General_News/Fakers-Nissan-tells-Top-Gear-20110808

    Summary: It seems that the TopGear team has twice gone out of their way to show electric cars running out of charge on the road when they should have been able to reach their destination under non-TV script conditions, going so far as to condemn the technology as “not the future” based on their demonstrations. Both electric car companies have complained, asserting that the framing in the show presented their cars as performing far below their capabilities and that the viewers weren’t told that the running out of charge was framed. TopGear responded saying that they never truly claimed to have run out of charge, but felt the need to show what would have happened if they had.

    So yeah, whether you believe in electric cars or not, misleading your viewers, a I believe they did and intended, to undermine an entire technology is not ok with me.

    • Shamus says:

      I saw an interview with Elon Musk where he talked about how the Tesla was portrayed on the show. Apparently the show depicted it as running out of power, but when Tesla got the vehicle back they could see that nothing of the sort had ever happened. They had the full telemetry from the computer and the vehicle had been fine the whole time.

      This is a strange case. OBVIOUSLY some things on the show are fake. And some things are real. I think a lot of us assumed that the dialog was fake (as in scripted) and the vehicle stuff was real. (I did.) The show never promised us such. Is it a comedy show, or a car show?

      Their defense was “It’s a comedy show!”

      Okay then, but they’re in the GBWR as the “most widely watched factual TV program in the world”. If they’re just a comedy show then they shouldn’t be competing against non-fiction television. They should have to compete against sitcoms or whatever.

      You argued that the show should be honest about the cars from a practical point of view. (Because slagging an emerging technology can have real economic and policy consequences.) I’ll come at it from the other direction and say that even if we don’t care about electric cars, this is still not a good way to run the show.

      The thing that makes the show funny is the way it puts comedy into what feels like it should be a straightforward TV presentation. It’s like watching news anchors insult and bicker with each other on-air. If you drop the act and admit you’re just here to insult each other it just becomes a sitcom and thus loses some of the charm. A big part of the appeal is that it feels like they’re “getting away” with misbehaving, even if it’s actually all part of the show.

      Because of this, dishonesty is built into the premise of the show. But like a lot of people, I always assumed that dishonesty revolved around the hosts and didn’t involve the cars. Because knowing that they might fake a flat tire or a dead battery also kind of kills the humor. A lot of these things are only funny because they “really” happened, and if they didn’t really happen, then they lose their impact. If this is just a really odd sitcom with a scripted plot then all of those breakdowns, spin-outs, and races lose their sense of suspense and excitement. So much of the show is built around strange races, and if those are all staged then they’re pointless.

      I can see the desire to “fudge things” to make it more funny. I’ll bet that’s how all of this started. As the show moved towards comedy the writers started thinking, “Wouldn’t it be funny if X?” And then they started thinking, “Let’s just make sure X happens anyway. It’s just a gag.” But while this makes for some fun short-term jokes it kills the sense of subversive fun that makes the show unique.

      • ehlijen says:

        Yeah, that sounds cromulent. The illusion breaking was probably a major factor contributing to my annoyance.

        I guess I wish the show had been more like mythbusters. Admittedly, they also fudged things at times, to the point where it should have put their results into question, but by and large they did deliver the amount of accuracy they promised, were open as to just what amount that was, and still managed to get a ridiculous narrative happening.

        I wonder what the overlap of these shows was in terms of audience. Did one show influence expectations of the other?

        • Droid says:

          […] mythbusters. Admittedly, they also fudged things at times, to the point where it should have put their results into question,

          But, but ‘SPLODEY things!

          • ehlijen says:

            Some of the best stuff was big booms, yes. But at times they were also given some no-wins, like ‘does bust size affect a waitress’s tips?’. I do not begrudge them fudging their way through that awkwardness (ignoring a range of variables just to get everything over with). It was neither fun to watch (to me) nor did it seem enjoyable for them to act out.

      • Kathryn says:

        Yes, even the car stuff is definitely scripted. There’s a large team of mechanics behind the scenes. But like I said up above, these three are good enough actors that you can generally suspend disbelief. This is the problem with most attempts to imitate Top Gear – they pick people who are car guys first and actors second (if at all), which means that it’s too obvious the mayhem is scripted.

        Speaking of mayhem, I made the mistake of watching the ambulance bit from the final season while extremely pregnant. I laughed so hard that tears were coursing down my face from the severe ligament pain. Totally worth it.

      • PPX14 says:

        I feel like I got bored with Top Gear after a certain point when I realised this seemed to be completely the case and I couldn’t trust any of the situations to be real. Interesting to hear that TGT takes it even further that way, I already thought it was at 100%.

        • BlueHorus says:

          Another thing that’s better about TGT, I guess.
          Take away the platform of the BBC and the veneer of journalism (even more of a veneer than I thought, that example of the electric cars segments is outrageous) and it’s just the presenters messing around.
          It’s more honest, and the show lives and dies on how funny it is.

          • 4th Dimension says:

            Which is why I liked the “combat anti-terrorism training”bit. Where they build it up as them training for it in Jordan with live rounds, and then get mercilessly and pointlessly MURDERED in variety of stupid ways. And each time it happens they get reset.

            I loved it precisely because it showed none of this was real, and used that than to play jokes on just how COMPLETELY and UTTERLY incompetent at it they are. :D

            • Zak McKracken says:

              Haven’t seen that but at that point it does have a chance at working for me because it’s so obviously fake that the audience and the presenters are in agreement about how serious/real everything is (not at all).
              It gets bad (for me) if the viewer has to guess which part is scripted and which isn’t, especially if the presenters are acting serious when I realize that they can’t be. So you can’t really watch it in earnest because it makes no sense but you can’t treat it as a joke because the presenters insist that it isn’t one.

    • kunedog says:

      For me, it was the fake gas station attack in Alabama, which (as far I can tell) they did for no other reason than to slander a region of the world they hate (and want everyone else to hate). Can you imagine them ever faking an attack by the locals in India, Africa, or Vietnam?

      To top it all off, years later it actually did happen to them for real in Argentina.

  13. Ilseroth says:

    You hit the nail on the head regarding the humor. Before they were able to use the BBC as the straight man, telling them to cover economical vehicles and whatnot, holding them back from heir antics, that they’ll do anyway because they are so wacky and all that.

    Grand Tour lacks a bit of the “down to earth” nature of the previous show. You rarely see cars that aren’t mega super cars. You rarely see them doing stuff around the UK, faffing about, instead they go to crazy locations and kinda sorta faff about, but with the higher budget you can tell that they are pressured to up the ante, instead of just being goofy.

    I will say one thing they ditched that I am glad about is the celebrity race time board. It usually overstayed it’s welcome and was mostly just a celebrity plugging a book/movie.

    • Hector says:

      We’ve also had one brief season of TGT, whereas there’s 20 of Top Gear. It’s no surprise that the latter has a lot more good moments. But that’s rather like comparing one apple to the entire fruit aisle. I do like the interesting challenges for the three of them on Top Gear, and hope they have some more like that.

  14. SPCTRE says:

    *mumbles something about Star Trek Discovery from side of mouth*

    What? Oh, Top Gear. Never could stay with that show, I blame video games – whenever I’m down with investing time in car related things, I either want to actively drive them for real or at least in a video game.

    • BlueHorus says:

      Hey,someone who’s watched Star Trek Discovery!
      I was interested when I first heard about it, but my heart sank when I saw it was behind another, different paywall.
      Then I remembered the nu-Trek films and how they just weren’t really Star Trek, or at least what *I* liked about it. I reasoned there was no way the earnest, cerebral, not-always-great-but-at-least-they-tried-their-best sci-fi shows I remember watching (TNG & DS9) when I was younger would come back.

      Was I right?

      • Fade2Gray says:

        So far, the whole thing has felt like a bait a switch. The first couple of episodes were decent to middling TNG-esque Trek but with a very strong focus on a single character. And then the final scene of the second episode upends everything and the season preview afterwords makes it clear that this show is going in a VERY different direction from the other shows. We’ll see if its any good, but I’m not holding my breath.

  15. PPX14 says:

    I started out finding Top Gear and their antics quite entertaining, as a teen in the mid-late 2000s, mostly for their huge road trips where we get to see so much of the landscapes and places they travelled through. I was not happy when I realised just how scripted it was, but the big pan-continental journeys and extreme environments were still fascinating. But the more of them I watched (not in any particular order, as and when I came across re-runs or new ones), the more the fatigue with the scripted nature and their brand of humour grew and eventually became the strong dislike that I didn’t understand in other people when I had liked it, the more their avant garde antics just seemed childish provocation, mean spirited, lazy and bigoted, and just not very funny. I even began to dislike James May, let alone the increasingly unpalatable Clarkson. And so I stopped watching it.

    And then he assaulted a producer, openly poured scorn on the BBC in promoting The Grand Tour (which felt like at least tacit criticism for their having punished his behaviour) and his shipmates went along with him. I feel that Clarkson is far too ingrained into the show to be able to look past the incident, cumulative to my already worsening picture of him. But fair play if you can – it’s not like that has any effect on the cars, settings or cinematography.

    Interestingly, it co-incided somewhat with becoming bored with QI! But BBC pulls it back with Bake Off. But now that’s gone. Masterchef, save us!!

  16. Tom says:

    Reading Shamus’s takes on Top Gear always remind me of this masterpiece published when The Grand Tour debuted. Shamus is very much your Yer Da.

    Oh, on an unrelated note I worked for a major corporation around the time that Clarkson was brought on for The Grand Tour and remember working some fantastic mandatory overtime whilst dozens upon dozens of screens were suspended above me just displaying Clarkson’s face with various quotes about products. Weird times.

  17. Soylent Dave says:

    As has already been pointed out, Top Gear being a BBC programme was actually incredibly important to how entertaining it was.

    This is our state broadcaster. It has a mandate to ‘Educate, entertain and inform’. We treat it differently to other – distastefully commercial – broadcasters, and the programming is rather different (or at least, we pretend it is, which is almost the same thing).

    Clarkson has always been obnoxious. As he got more and more famous, his ego and his negative personality traits grew to match.

    But it was watching him try to fit that into a BBC programme that was part of the fun. He never really belonged on the BBC (or rather, he very much did, but he was willing to present the idea that he didn’t). We could enjoy watching him – and Top Gear itself – ‘get away’ with things that stretched Lord Reith’s boundaries and seemed almost (always almost) out of place on the same BBC that brought us Countryfile and the Great British Bake Off.

    But as time went on it became increasingly clear that Clarkson wasn’t testing the boundaries of the BBC – because the BBC didn’t afford him any. He was allowed to break rules time and time again, and not minor stuff about blowing up caravans instead of reviewing them, but more extreme stuff like ‘being racist on camera’ and ‘being racist on camera again’, and ‘being racist on camera, again‘ – and over time that eroded any audience belief that there had ever been any boundaries for him to push against.

    It became apparent that there was nothing Clarkson could do to get himself fired – and the more apparent that became, the less magic Top Gear had; because then it was no longer ‘the little show that could’, battling against the strict BBC bosses… it was the BBC flagship that was far too big to be allowed to fail, and its presenters were far too big to be fired.

    (at least, until things came to a head and he absolutely had to be)

    Which is where The Grand Tour can’t really fill the void – because it’s stepping in at precisely that “too big to fail” point – we know Amazon don’t consider Clarkson’s previous behaviour an issue (even the stuff that got him fired from the BBC), we know they’re throwing embarrassing amounts of money at the show… there are no boundaries for him to push against, nor even the pretence at boundaries that made Top Gear entertaining.

    So it’s always going to be “not Top Gear”, even more than the BBC’s own anaemic replacement series is. The brand has died; we’re watching its death throes.

    (some of which will, I’m sure, be entertaining. Just ‘not Top Gear’.)

    • Ah. You may have put your finger on why I was so fed up with Top Gear long before the physical assault incident that ended the whole thing. TBH, I actually really miss when it was (or was at least pretending to be) a journalistic program about cars normal people might actually buy, but with a bit of comedy to liven things up a bit. Then the whole thing seemed to devolve into heavy staging, penis-waving and the worst aspects of laddishness without any real redeeming features that I could see because, as you noted, literally anything went behaviour-wise – it’s not subversive entertainment if it’s been cheerfully green-lit by Those Above. TGT is that but turned up to 11? I’ll pass.

  18. Ian says:

    To be fair he was never sacked. His contract was not renewed as it was coming to the end of its term anyway. Splitting hairs perhaps but he’s been quite adamant that he has never been sacked.

    • Richard says:

      A very, very fine hair to split, as TV contracts are almost always per-series (and sometimes per-episode).

      In the context of a TV show, not renewing a contract for the next series is firing the talent.

  19. john says:

    TGT is trash, if I’m honest. TG may have been heavily scripted but at least it didn’t feel that way, so many of the recurring segments just don’t work on TGT, I didn’t hate conversation Street, but the others were dreadful and I didn’t look forward to seeing it at all, the drama between the 3 is obviously scripted and thus predictable, boring. Anytime an argument happens it ends with Jeremy calling him a midget, the bits where TG shone just wasn’t there, I believe they played it far too safe for a show supposed to imitate and surpass TG. The worst thing about TGT is that I can’t feel that sensation of mateship between the 3. And I hate it.

  20. GTB says:

    I liked Top Gear a lot. I think Grand Tour is okay, but I don’t think it’s as good.

    I think the reason it’s not as good is that for Top Gear, there was always the feeling that the guys were getting away with stuff. Like, every episode was basically the three of them spending a ton of the BBC’s money doing goofy shit and that was the show. And it was always like “Can you believe how much of the BBC’s money we wasted on this? Can you believe that they’re actually paying us, and devoting programming time, for THIS? We just turned three caravans into boats and we’re currently sailing down the river, and the BBC has paid for all of it.” This makes everything especially funny because, for the majority of America, the BBC is seen as kind of upper-crust and British conservative, even though that’s not really the case (hello, Jimmy Carr). We (well, my generation, anyway) grew up with a ton of BBC documentaries and that’s still kind of what we associate with it.

    With GT, there’s none of that. They’re spending the same or more amount of money, but there’s no sense that they’re doing it in spite ofamazon. Of course they’re not. Amazon is throwing money at them, and they’re spending it, and its a perfectly serviceable show, but it just isn’t the same.

    It also feels a lot more scripted, even though I don’t think it actually is- I think they just don’t have the same people going “uh, nobody is going to believe that actually happened” anymore.

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