We’re several weeks into Amazon’s megabudget Top Gear remake, “Grand Tour,” and you can’t fail to have noticed it has arrived. There have been ads everywhere from the sides of buses to TV, and of course, all over the front page of the Amazon website. Even Amazon’s packaging covers their grinning faces right now.
We’ve even managed to have a “presenter says something stupid” story, with mild-mannered Richard Hammond somehow implying that eating ice cream as an adult is “gay.”
Cost estimates for the new series vary wildly, but what’s clear is that a lot of money has been spent on this series.
And yet, I confess I’ve been utterly underwhelmed by Grand Tour so far.
They’ve got a lot more money, but I’m not sure they’re spending it wisely.
They’ve been hopping around the world for, well, basically no reason at all. After a few long-haul outings in the US and South Africa, they’ve stayed in Europe. But apart from a seeming product placement deal with DHL (does that PP logo need to appear in the UK streaming world?), there seems little to no point. In South Africa they managed a single short feature in which James May watched a bunch of locals do donuts, while he didn’t do any himself.
And, er, that’s about the extent of it.
Look, I realise that the bulk of the show is made months in advance, and these are just the last bits, providing an over-arching narrative to otherwise unrelated features. But really, what’s the point?
Is it really only that they have to use a tent, and can’t broadcast from a single location because that infringes the BBC’s intellectual property?
The car features are basically the same as Top Gear’s.
They’ve got a UK track to test cars and time them – the same as Top Gear.
There’s a new racing driving who does now speak but is basically a new Stig – the same as Top Gear.
We don’t have “The Producers,” instead “Mr Wilman” sends texts. That’d be Andy Wilman, the show’s producer, reinventor of Top Gear with Clarkson, with whom he went to school.
The only thing they don’t seem to have is the star interview. Instead they have a “joke” sequence that has already got very boring very quickly (along with a “drone crash” at the start of each episode).
Then there are the awful attempts at comedy. The worst of these must have been a singularly unfunny section segment the RAF with the USAF.
There are other gags, and they’re totally laboured. It feels like nobody has the ability to reign in the stars and say, “Look, this isn’t funny. We’re dropping it or editing it out.”
And I’m really disappointed that they’ve not tried to do a few more different things. If you’re going to dart around the world, do it for a reason. Do some new features that make use of your locales.
Yes, we want the presenters’ chemistry, but what we’ve got is a version Top Gear that’s as close as possible to the original without infringing the aforementioned IP, but with much more money thrown at it. And not for the better.
I’ll be honest and say that I never watched Top Gear for reviews of supercars. They were easily the dullest.
I wanted silly challenges, races, and journeys. The presenters were never that funny, but I kind of thought they knew that. Yet now we seem to be getting more of their “comic” turns.
It feels as though they’ve been given a massive amount of cash and allowed to do what they like with no Amazon interference. Indeed I suspect that’s exactly what has happened.
Sometimes a network keeping you on track is actually useful.
Their two-parter in the Namib desert was better, although a seasoned watched understands that they’re never in the peril they claim to be.
But overall I don’t think they’ve stretched themselves creatively, and indeed I think they’re just coasting doing more of their usual act. It’s not that this is a terrible series – it’s still well made and looks great.
But given the freedom and budget they have, I expected better.
In the meantime, James May’s The Reassembler on BBC Four is probably a better watch.