The Guardian posted a piece today that is sure to create some controversy amongst fans of The Grand Tour. While Clarkson-era Top Gear was no stranger to criticism, The Grand Tour is only four episodes in and is already attracting the wrong sort of news from certain news outlets.
Before we get into the meat and bones of The Guardian’s article, I want to speak a little about my views on the show, so please bear with me for a bit. I loved Clarkson-era Top Gear, didn’t mind American Top Gear (it got better in the later seasons), and didn’t have a burning hatred for New Top Gear. I love shows about cars and will catch as many of them as I can.
As long as the shows were about CARS, I’m ok with it. Now I understand that The Grand Tour won’t always be about cars; I’m ok with that since the three hosts are so funny and charismatic that it doesn’t matter. For the most part, I still enjoy it over most anything else on TV right now, and view it as less of a motoring show, and more of a “Clarkson, May, Hammond Variety Hour.”
With that being said, I’m not a huge fan of how scripted and forced TGT feels. There was very little of Episode 4 that felt like things “just happened.” The boys were clearly following a script, and even some of their conversations in the tent felt forced. The show is very clearly no longer a “let’s throw weird situations at three middle aged men and see what happens,” and more of a “let’s force the audience to laugh.” It might as well have a laugh track.
I understand that old Top Gear was scripted as well; it would be silly to think otherwise. The difference between that and TGT is that the earlier TG seasons felt like the producers were making more of an effort to pretend like the show wasn’t scripted. It felt like the boys had more freedom to be themselves. The later seasons of TG and now TGT feels like the boys are playing caricatures of themselves.
Do I still enjoy the show? Hell yes I do. It’s still funny, and the boys are still the boys, but it feels much more like watching a sitcom now.
The Guardian certainly did not feel the need to mince words with their opinion on the show:
Only, four episodes in, it doesn’t feel like an exciting new start. It feels stale. Forced. Baggy. Tired. And this is because, as well as transplanting the presenting team (plus executive producer Andy Wilman) across from Top Gear, it has also carried across the baggage that made latter-day Top Gear fall flat. Worse, with the pool of cash Amazon provides, it’s cranked up these irksome indulgences to the point where bolts are popping out. The kernel of what made Top Gear a phenomenon – three men bickering, driving around and being rubbish – is almost entirely absent.
Also mentioned was something I never considered, but it makes perfect sense:
One of the most acute mistakes Clarkson’s iteration of Top Gear increasingly made was its blurring of the line between presenter and actor. May, Hammond and Clarkson are good presenters; they were never good actors. And it was the show requiring them to act that resulted in its most tiresome segments. The second episode of The Grand Tour was just play-acting. It was a dreary, self-indulgent lesson in how it is possible to take a £4m-per-episode budget and produce nothing of value.
The over-scripted tedium arose again in the third episode, when Clarkson and May acted “surprised” when Hammond turned up on their Grand Tour road trip in a US muscle car, then “acted” like a child in it. The fourth likewise, with May “accidentally” demolishing Hammond’s sustainable car. With the huge sums being spent on set-pieces, scripting is the only way to ensure the required shots make the cut.
How does The Guardian think TGT should fix itself? Well, it’s actually a view shared by many I’ve spoken to, and it is actually a view that I share myself (though maybe not to the same degree as The Guardian):
It’s frustrating, because this is such an easy show to get right. Three men, talking about cars, mocking one another, and going on adventures. That’s it. Stop scripting everything, and stop throwing money at pointless explosions. It’s tiresome.
Perhaps the most interesting quote from the piece that I found was the ending, where a bleak future for TGT is given:
What will happen is we’ll end up watching the natural, slow death Top Gear would have had, only much more expensively: it’ll get worse, people will switch off, and it will end. Perhaps the BBC will have the last laugh after all.
What do you guys think? We’re all here because we love the boys and love cars, but I’m sure all of you have your own opinions on the direction of the show. Let us know in the comments and on our Facebook page!