The Grand Tour Episode 3 Review

On this week’s episode of The Grand Tour, titled “Opera, Art, and Donuts”, the three biys go on a literal grand tour around some of the beautiful ancient cities of Italy which are Verona, Modena, Florence, and ending at Venice. Also, the demolition of Clarkson’s home after he said that he would allow May and Hammond to destroy his house if his McLaren P1 lose to the Porsche 918 and Ferrari LaFerrari which eventually Clarkson had to eat up his words and kept that promise when the P1 ended being dead last.

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For starters, let’s begin with the main film of the episode, and from the trailer which aired a few days before the episode was shown, it looks like this episode is a visual apology to fans for last week’s episode which accomplish nothing other than comedy (but the Vulcan review is not THAT bad). Sure enough, this episode brings back the good old days of Top Gear going on a road trip with three of their choice of cars.

I remember the supercar challenge to discover the greatest road in the world and the journey to the highest suspension bridge in Europe as Top Gear’s best feature. They were honest, and speaks about how beautiful these cars were but at the same time how much of a hassle it is to drive one. The Italian Grand Tour though does feel a little bit like those episodes but they were not all that perfect.

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Their choice of cars though were spectacular. Clarkson chose the brown sunset orange Aston Martin DB11, May chose the Rolls Royce Dawn, and Hammond being the brash little Yorkshire terrier  American chose the Dodge Challenger Hellcat. The latter proved to be an annoyance to both Clarkson and May who eventually developed a twitch every time he hears it pass by.

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Remove the comedic elements and you actually have something reminiscent of an old Top Gear episode. The boys gave their thoughts on the cars they selected and the part where Clarkson and Hammond duke it out at the Mugello Circuit to see which is faster makes me forgive them for last week’s bad seed. Then, there are the jokes which feels forced this time around. The point of this feature is to enjoy a grand tour just like back in the old days where European travelers travel around and Hammond’s portrayal of a yokel who cares little about the culture kinda describes most tourists today, especially millennials.

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At least today’s episode is a big improvement over the last one and in my opinion, it’s the best episode so far this season. I particularly love Conversation Street (there’s an Easter egg in the montage) and this week shows them discussing about cars again albeit with a joke about Whitby’s jets at the beginning.

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This week, there’s no car lap times at the Eboladrome, which also means one less shouty American to deal with. Anyway, if Mike Skinner hears about the way Clarkson and May describe the Hellcat, he’s gonna be raging throughout the whole lap. Instead, we have a demolition. Though it is just a singular house and there are only two of the hosts, it does remind me of the demolition challenge in Top Gear a few years ago but this segment is purely comedic and nothing more. Also, it is probably to show Amazon’s large budget for the series.

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Episode 3 in the end shows the transition that The Grand Tour aims to do; an entertainment car show with bits of factual information and a slightly more comedic feel. At least this week they show the true meaning behind the name of the show. And made me optimistic about the next few episodes.

THE HIGHS

  • No Mike Skinner
  • Conversation Street
  • Elements of a grand tour with them giving car reviews
  • The sound edits when the Hellcat and DB11 faced off

THE LOWS

  • Forced comedic elements
  • Demolition segment is an excuse for filler
  • Celebrity Brain Crash. We get it, you guys want to give a middle finger to the BBC for not allowing celebrity interviews, but the joke is getting tired.

OVERALL: 3.82/5

Scorecard: 

Episode 1 – The Holy Trinity: 3.15/5

Episode 2 – Operation Desert Stumble: 1.78/5

Episode 3 – Opera, Art, and Donuts: 3.82/5

 

 

 

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The Grand Tour Episode 2 Review

Ask any Top Gear fan which is the worst episode of TG and they would mention the India Special. For those who do not know what is the episode about, in summary, the boys are sent as British representatives to try and foster trade relations with India. Thus, they brought the best British cars they can find for £7,000 and along the way building relations with India. This being Top Gear, they obviously failed but overall the episode does not seem to be getting anywhere. It’s just an hour of them humiliating themselves and Britain, plus there’s nothing much about the cars they were driving. No wonder fans hated it. It was a pointless and meaningless episode that brought out cheap entertainment.

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Fast forward to the second episode of The Grand Tour and unfortunately this episode is reminiscent of the India Special. I know that this is just the second episode of an entirely new program but already I am confused at the end of the episode. Let’s start off with a small intro about today’s episode. This week, the boys are in Johannesburg, South Africa. More specifically, The Cradle of Humankind, the land where paleontologists believe modern humans began evolving from. It’s just then, things got a little bit weird. Hammond started posing Clarkson, widely regarded as a giant orangutan by Hammond, how long has homo sapiens been on this planet to which things get political. Clarkson’s answer evoked a footage of South African President, Jacob Zuma having difficulty reading aloud 769,82(0?).

Zuma himself is a controversial figure and we know based on old TG, the show loves a little controversy, especially Clarkson. However, this time, I feel a little uncomfortable with the joke which reminds me of a segment in The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. The Grand Tour is about cars and maybe a little bit of Brits showing the middle finger to the world while at the same time oblivious to the fact that they are not the superpower that once was. TG was good at mixing British nationalism while at the same time retaining itself as a car show but they do it so subtly just like their humour. TGT though is trying a little too hard and things become awkward here. Of course, they continue to make fun of South Africa by inserting in some stereotypes into the mix. In the first episode, they made fun of Americans for calling some parts of the car differently and comparing the air force. In South Africa, they made fun of the wildlife and the incompetency of the South African civil servants. Needless to say, this looks like a trend for their episodes.

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From making fun of South Africa, the next segment is Clarkson reviewing the Aston Martin Vulcan. Actually, it also makes fun of his tall frame for struggling to enter the car and later stalling it. The Aston looks complex to drive and Clarkson shows it but overall the video looks really good. A step up compared to the BMW M2. Then again, the Vulcan is loud. Really loud but they managed to balance it all out. Great review and respect to Clarkson for eventually getting the hang of this car. Heck, the gears are connected to the removable steering wheel. Unfortunately, this is the only segment in the ENTIRE episode worth watching and everything else falls down here on out. Let us begin with the follow up lap time by TGT’s in-house American Mike Skinner, which I skipped entirely. Nevertheless, the Vulcan goes top on the leaderboard.

On the bright side, this week’s Conversation Street looks better than last week. There is that banter we all loved in the Top Gear news segment when the three of them are discussing about downforce after seeing pictures of Aston Martin’s collaboration with red Bull Racing. The later parts of Conversation Street sees them talking about the alarmingly high car-jacking cases in South Africa and a device to prevent one’s bicycle from being stolen. Overall, this week’s Conversation Street actually sparks a conversation about something more entertaining than May’s pathetic speed ticket.

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Moving on to this week’s main video, which, to be honest I do not really know what is the point. The premise is that the three boys would have to rescue a VIP, in this case the “Queen” from hostages. The catch is if anyone of them gets shot, they would have to restart it all over from the beginning. Kinda like that Tom Cruise movie, Cocktail. Along the way, there is also a review of the Audi S8 hidden somewhere in that messy pile of…something. There’s a Dacia Duster which should be GOOD NEWS but it is badged as a Renault instead. I would like to see May doing a review on the Duster while the other two haplessly try to shoot out the baddies but that did not happen. Also, since Clarkson, especially him, likes to talk about the armed forces, they could be presenting about the vehicles used in warfare rather than to turn it into a B-movie action parody disguised as a review for an Audi sports sedan.

I was disappointed to say the least. While the 23rd series of Top Gear slowly toned down the shouty ginger after the first episode, The Grand Tour still tries to find its footing in the second episode. I hate to see them fall backwards and while there is still hope for the next ten episodes in this first season, I can’t pretty much say the same for my optimism.

THE HIGHS

  • The Vulcan review
  • Conversation Street talking about downforce
  • James May’s short spinning segment. It should have been longer and it would be interesting to see May trying to spin a car or perhaps a short segment about the car culture in SA
  • May vs the “Queen”

THE LOWS

  • Mike FRIGGIN Skinner
  • The intro went a little too political comedy show. It’s The Grand Tour not The Governmental Thrashing
  • The jokes. SIGH
  • 3/4 of the show

OVERALL: 1.78/5

Scorecard:

Episode 1 – The Holy Trinity: 3.15/5

Episode 2 – Operation Desert Stumble: 1.78/5

Images credit: Amazon, Top Gear India Special: BBC

 

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