Clarkson, Hammond and May are back!
After the critical and ratings failure that was Chris Evans pathetic attempt to keep the show running (whoever hired that twat should have been fired the instant they made that decision) Amazon brings back the original presenters in their re-imagined version of Top Gear, the Grand Tour.
The main news: it’s bloody good. The enhanced budget, lack of BBC oversight and a general acknowledgement that the 3 presenters can basically get away with saying anything this time around breathes fresh life into the show. The opening has Clarkson balefully leaving the rain-soaked BBC offices in London and catching a flight to the US, only to smile in joy as his colleagues join him in a trio of American muscle cars to the song ‘I can see clearly now’. Its a very direct statement to the trio’s former bosses: Good riddance! You don’t miss the old track, the theme music or the studio because essentially, Top Gear was always about the interactions between the 3 presenters. And the Grand Tour nails that.
The first stop on the tour is the middle of a desert in California, and putting the team up next to an American studio audience (in their mobile tent which serves as a admirable replacement for the aircraft hangar) leads to some predictable comedy gold (Clarkson educating Americans on the correct ‘English’ terminology for car components was classic Top Gear). The studio segments in general are pretty funny, mainly in how the trio savagely tear into both the bbc and new top gear (including a bizarre studio segment where they not only laugh at James’ stupid suggestion of having celebs drive round their new racetrack, but proceed to accidentally ‘kill’ all of their celebrity guests).
Speaking of the new racetrack, it’s a lot more gimmicky than the old one, with fields of sheep, electric generators and an unexploded bomb featuring, though as it’s only used for car tests and setting fast car times it does add something to a potentially bland section of the show. The only disappointment is new racing driver ‘The American’ who is a poor substitute for the copyrighted Stig, who is neither as iconic as his predecessor nor particularly funny (though he is suitably fast and only onscreen for 2 minutes) which is almost certainly down to Amazon’s insistence on hiring a US driver.
The main event in the first show is a series of car tests at a racetrack in Portugal, with Clarkson in a McClaren P1, Hammond in a Porsche 918 and May in a Ferrari LaFerrari. Its a very familiar set of tests, with drag races, professional racing drivers doing fast laps in the presenters cars and a typically cocky Clarkson joking that if the McClaren loses May and Hammond can demolish his house… While it wasn’t the most memorable challenge the three have ever done, it was quintessential top gear all the same and a trailer for the rest of the series hinted that the best is definitely yet to come.
Overall, the show we all love no matter how foolish or manic it gets is back with a bang. It proves once and for all the chemistry between the 3 leads was the foundation of Top Gears success, and not only sinks any hope the BBC may have had that the amazon re-imagining would fail, but actively blows the shit Chris Evans version out of the water. A very promising start, which while not a classic episode in itself, was a great teaser of things to come. Bloody good work Amazon.
Rating: 4 out of 5.