After nearly two decades reviewing, destroying, racing, and—with varying degrees of success—creating motor vehicles, the former Top Gear trio of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May have become what they most despised: caravanners.
Longtime viewers of the BBC motoring show will appreciate the irony here: They’ve crashed into RVs in a chase scene, set a campground on fire, and mercilessly swung one at another in a rousing game of Caravan Conkers. But in their reincarnation as Amazon’s The Grand Tour, the co-hosts are setting out for adventures all over the world in a traveling tent, complete with a small stage with suitcases and trunks denoting their (as Clarkson so delicately put it) gypsy status.
The tent isn’t the only familiar vestige of Top Gear: The season opens with a somber Clarkson getting the boot from BBC, so it’s certainly not shying away from their history. There’s a season-preview montage of explosions, racing, shit-giving, and more; the format follows the same combination of short films abroad and in-studio clips; and they’ll tackle sexy supercars and military-grade tanks with equal enthusiasm. And, of course, the co-hosts still can’t help but mock one another for their various shortcomings (a more literal turn of phrase in Hammond’s case) and their audience of Americans and our cultural fascination with the Toyota Prius. The debut episode even ends on a bombshell, just like the good ol’ days.
Tossing Jeremy Renner out of an airplane makes one helluva first impression for anybody still on the fence.
Perhaps most importantly, the quality is every bit maintained—as well it should be for a rumored $242.7 million deal. The close-up shots of supercar bodies, in-car interviews, and gut-rattling audio all help capture the borderline pornographic featurettes on their subjects. A new visual feature also lets viewers get an X-ray view of the cars’ innards. (And, you know, if you want to get to know the beasts too, May’s brought his encyclopedic technical know-how along for the ride.) The hosts suggest that a few episodes of the season might not be traditional “car show” material per se, but kicking things off with the “hypercar holy trinity” of the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder, and an unregistered LaFerrari was a perfectly well-measured choice by the creators to recapture the old fanbase and lure in new viewers in one fell swoop. And tossing Jeremy Renner out of an airplane makes one helluva first impression for anybody still on the fence.
Certainly, it’ll take some getting used to: The guys seem more scripted this time around (which isn’t the worst idea when you’ve got a man like Clarkson at the helm). The News segment has been rebranded awkwardly as “Conversation Street,” “Celebrity Brain Crash” ostensibly replaces Star in a Reasonably Priced Car (when they move past an awkwardly long bit about all the celebs dropping dead en route), and the lap times board is digital now. The new test track, surrounded by an old lady and a herd of sheep, hasn’t been properly christened after Michael Gambon or broken in by the Stig (who speaks? and may or may not be NASCAR’s Michael Skinner, aka the Emetic?) … But yeah, we’re nit-picking here.
When the BBC elected not to renew Top Gear in 2015, fans frankly weren’t sure if they’d ever get a chance to see their favorites back on-air. With The Grand Tour, they very much are—now uncensored, thanks to life on the internet—and we can’t wait to follow them from California to Johannesburg to Portugal and beyond.
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