The Grand Tour Episode 1 Review

Months have passed since the HOT MEAL INCIDENT began that changed the face of the world. 2016 became a pretty shitty year/timeline not because of a gorilla but because of another ape  a well-known TV presenter that is unhappy because his dinner had gone cold and went on a rampage on his producer. The effects of March 2015 continued on into the next year. While Top Gear marched on with a slew of hosts, the end result was heart-breaking to watch and pretty loud. Eventually future episodes of Series 23 of Top Gear (TG) improved and became less shouty but the damage was done. TG was basically not the same without the trio of Hammond, May, and Clarkson on board. Credit is given to Rory Reid and Chris Harris for trying their best, as they were clearly the standouts of TG 2.0.1 and they weren’t even trying that hard.

Now back to the main topic which is of course The Grand Tour, Amazon’s biggest juggernaut and I meant that literally. The opening sequence of the first episode alone costs $3.2 million and what an opening it was. It begins in the UK (raining, obviously) and out comes Clarkson with all of the radio news of his outburst played out in the background as he steps into a London taxi for the airport. The opening few minutes is pretty cinematic and un-Top Gear like. Then, there’s this scene:

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Good god. It looks like this is going to be so different from the normal Top Gear we have seen in the past. It’s gonna be different. Then, Clarkson steps into his rental, a Galpin Rocket, basically a Ford Mustang designed by Henrik Fisker, you know, the guy who was in charge of the Fisker Karma. Then, he drives into an open road and was accompanied by the other boys in a couple of Mustangs. Right about now, I feel like that 3.2 million seems like an oversight. The three entered a desert accompanied by all sorts of cars past a sign that says “Burning Van”. I cringed at how American  commercialized that intro has become. A dad band cover version of “I Can See Clearly Now” becomes the first episode’s theme song and then they were introduced on a stage and gave a little preview on what is to come in the next 12 weeks.

I am glad Amazon decided to show a new episode every week instead of showing all 12 episodes at once unlike most streaming sites. Binge watching an entire season of a show like The Grand Tour or Top Gear is a different experience at least for me. It gives off an anticipation to the viewers for the next episode and that is why I like that approach. So, back to the show and it turns out that their studio is in a tent that travels around the world. The first episode is shown in an American desert and the next would be in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Without further ado, let’s begin with the series and one of the reasons why Top Gear was great is because of the banter these guys are giving among each other. While some of the show seems scripted but the chemistry between Clarkson, Hammond and May doesn’t feel forced. It is why TG Series 23 failed. The chemistry between Matt LeBlanc and Chris Evans is not there and the jokes the both of them made falls somewhere between catering staff on a Vauxhall to just meaningless. In the first episode however, this chemistry isn’t really seen unfortunately. The jokes feel scripted especially the one where Clarkson boasts how great the British Royal Air Force is compared to the American Air Force. We all know how British-centric the boys are but this is a tad too much and over the top.

But the biggest insult to injury is the Power Laps. I’m disappointed that they think a former American NASCAR driver would bring in more laughs than a mute, tame, racing driver that some say if he went on Celebrity Love Island they’d all be pregnant, including the cameramen. And Mike Skinner is actually his real name not made up in NascarDriverNameGenerator.com. I’m not gonna delve into much details about him but if you are interested, you can check it out here. Basically, he’s every single redneck American stereotype rolled into one driver package. In today’s episode, he drives the BMW M2 around the track which Clarkson said was the best of the current M cars and I would actually agree with that. Usually, I would never skip the lap times in Top Gear but in The Grand Tour, I vowed to skip this part in future episodes.

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The one thing they did remove was the Celebrity Lap Times. I know, they kinda remove the news segment as well but we will get back to that later. Nobody actually watch this section. It feels very late night talk show is the weakest part of Top Gear. In The Grand Tour, they replaced it with the aptly-named Celebrity Brain Crash which basically “kills off” any celebrity on the show. It’s a subtle joke to differentiate them from old TG but an unfunny one unfortunately. Then, there’s the news section. This is where all that chemistry and banter between the three boys are shown. It’s called Conversation Street but unfortunately, there isn’t much material going on other than announcing that May has gotten a speed ticket. Literally that was it. No news about new cars or any jokes about car culture. Just making fun of May’s speeding ticket (which isn’t really that fast. Something like 38mph in a 30mph lane). If only they left the “My Air Force is better than your Air Force. Nyah nyah nyah” bit on the cutting room floor.

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The highlight of this episode is the long awaited Holy Trinity showdown in which the Holy Father, Holy Son, and the Holy Spirit  the Porsche 918, LaFerrari and the McLaren P1 fight against each other to see which is the fastest among the three. The stage was simple the three would be racing around the Algarve Circuit in Portugal to see which would come out on top. Thankfully, this segment retains the second best thing about Top Gear, the cinematography. The angles, the camerawork, all match perfectly here. And then there’s a scene where the CGI of how the hybrid system works in the LaFerrari. This is not even provided by Ferrari but rather made by the production crew themselves, with some info from Ferrari. Clarkson as usual tries to ruin the whole thing at the end of the segment. The end result is something that I am probably surprised at but I would not spoil anything here if you have not watched it.

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Overall, Episode 1 of The Grand Tour ticks in some of the right places. Given that this is their first episode in a brand new channel/website/stream service without the help of public funds, I would say that this is kinda like Top Gear except that The Grand Tour is more scripted and less fun. I do not think that they were trying hard to emulate whatever chemistry they had in Top Gear but I feel that the Behind the Scenes teaser is a little more fun than the first episode. There’s still eleven more episodes to go anyway.

THE HIGHS

  • Cinematography has set up a pretty high bar
  • It is nice to see them back on our (computer) screens
  • The first few minutes of the intro scene
  • The chemistry seen between them remains a fun watch in the Holy Trinity segment

THE LOWS

  • On set/tent, that chemistry feels too scripted
  • Burning Van
  • Mike Skinner

OVERALL: 3.15/5

All images are credited to Amazon. GIFs sourced from Jalopnik

 

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