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.

Jeremy’s Direct Jab at Top Gear

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

36 Responses

  1. Clayton Payer

    Do you know what it feels like? The first few seasons of Top Gear. Very scripted, big show piece segments (anyone remember the rocket shuttle reliant Robin?), And “acted”.

  2. marcoscu222

    What better praise could there be than that The Guardian, the Po faced voice of the PC establishment should condemn it.

  3. Jeremy S

    Can’t argue with any of it. In this instance, what the Guardian said seems to be spot-on. They may have always been critical of Clarkson, which is part of his charm, but it seems obvious to me that they’re completely correct about epsiode 2. It was like a never-ending Saturday Night Live skit that stopped being funny after 20 seconds but they let it go on for several minutes. It was painful to watch and a waste of the enormous budget the show has. I’d rather see them spend it on cross-country tours like the old VietNam special or when they were looking for the source of the Nile. The boys aren’t great actors. Give them an awkward situation and let them push through it while making fun of each other.

  4. TracySwingKid

    I agree completely. Over-scripting the show ruins the chemistry between the boys, and takes away from the joyous fun that it should be. Hammond and Clarkson are being good sports. James May seems positively miserable.

  5. Tim

    Pay attention….

    If they copy, say, or do anything similar to TG, they can get sued by the BBC. They have commented about this in many articles and interviews. They can use the same phrases, wear the same clothes, even their hair is different….well except the Brilo pad on Clarkson’s head….but none the less they HAD to make it different. TG in rhe beginning was more about cars and less about comedy. Things just changed over time because of chemistry between the hosts. Give TGT some time to find its own grove and enjoy the bits as they come.

  6. Jon

    The problem is Auntie Beeb keeps the magic in her purse, defended by armies of thin-skinned lawyers.

    The Stig? Can’t have that!
    Celebrities? Can’t have that!
    Adventures in far-away places? Have to avoid any spontaneity!
    Cheap car mucking about? Nope!

  7. John

    I always thought that the Top Gear specials had a lot of scripted stuff to ensure they got enough footage to fill the time. And then in the edit the funny unscripted events replaced the scripted parts. When not many funny unscripted things happened we ended up with a special that felt too scripted.

    With TGT it feels like they are unwilling to sacrifice the expensive scripted set pieces in favour of the natural parts. Or maybe they were so caught up in the process they just did not deviate from the script. Either way, they are in danger of churning out a new India special each week.

  8. Matt Parker

    Jesus people give it a chance, the show is 4 episodes old and already people are saying it’s not like old top gear its scripted etc etc.
    I don’t know if any of you watched the first 2 series of top gear on BBC but they were awful, almost sleep inducing. Even Clarkson himself admitted it was rubbish till around series 5. And now we’re canning the grand tour after 4 episodes. Some people need to get out more.
    Yes the grand tour is obviously scripted and it has its problems but compare it to the first 4 episodes of top gear on the BBC its a revelation.
    I’m loving it, also loved the sly jab at Chris Evans in episode 4.

  9. Krishnan

    Grand tour is funnier and better than when the trio were in top gear. Yes, it is obviously scripted but I feel that the boys are really widening their potential as entertainers while still honestly reviewing cars. The 911 vs M4 was a fair test with no bull $$$$. Nobody really cares what the guardian says. As long as the boys continue to enjoy what they are doing, we will continue to watch!

  10. Jeffrey Izzo

    I agree wholeheartedly. People need to come off the “ooo the boys are back” high and realize the show is so overdone and overproduced that it just doesn’t have that magic. They seems to be basking way too much in their own stardom. Sure, that’s their prerogative — but absent now is that feeling that they are just normal blokes like us. The “irreverance” is very forced — I have yet to to see anything nearly as nuts as being pelted by irate South Americans, terrorized by angry rednecks, or finding the Baby Stig in the manger. THAT is the type of stuff that’s missing so far. Maybe it will find its legs — let’s hope so. I’m sure people are going to say I have no sense of humor, or I’m a prat, or whatever — well, so be it.

    • HeathWilD

      I agree with your statement. I also hope the show finds it’s feet. Have struggled through ep 1 & 2 and am not going our of my way to watch any more yet…

  11. Terry

    As much as I love the boys and the show I find it hard to disagree with much of what’s said. That second episode was tedious to watch, but first episode was blissful. I’ve always disliked how much was being scripted, if you’re going to script it and its obvious what’s happening, don’t try to “act.” Have some self awareness

  12. Darren Williams

    Episode 1 was good (the opening sequence was epic).

    Episode 2 was a bit silly and is the only one I haven’t watched twice.

    Episodes 3 and 4 were fantastic but I agree that it is too heavily scripted. However, I also understand that there has to be planning for the bigger jokes where someone could get hurt, but for other stuff can we please have just a rough storyboard planning thing going on? Let the banter flow naturally and the prank scheming more spontaneously.

  13. Gary

    If the BBC removed their restrictions on what the boys “can and can’t do ” the hosts and production team could do what they do nest and the show would fix its self

  14. katie

    They still don’t get it, BBC didn’t seems the establishment never will.

  15. Jay Narvasa

    I agree to some extent to what Guardian is expressing. I love seeing the boys back together, but do feel that some scenes were too scripted. Bring back the hilarious long Road Trips adventures the trio is famous for… now that’s entertainment. Enough of the corny long drawn non car segments and celebrity death cameos.

  16. Josh

    Because I love Clarkson, Hammond, and May, I actually agree with the Guardian…Good heavens, it might be the first time I’ve ever agreed with the Guardian…but really, I just want to see three guys I really like having fun and driving beautiful cars…or crappy cars. It really is simple- Just get in a freaking McLaren and drive as fast as you can while making poo jokes. Then get in a freaking Mercedes and make lots of tire smoke. Make fun of James May. Then do a road trip in three small European cars of questionable maintenance history and blow up a caravan. Done! The semi-scripted scenes really are tiresome. I like the guys, not a scripted, forced version of them. Just get in some cars and have fun!!

  17. Susan Lauby

    I love the grand tour. I don’t know who the guardian are, and really don’t care. Love the show! It’s like hanging out with three immature boys, every weekend.

  18. Goondock

    the show has a lot of good! and do love it/ will still watch.. but i totally agree. Too much scripting too much “FAKE CRAP” To try to be funny. It is way WAY better when it is real. other things to get rid of. The American… well if anything just don’t let him speak or if he does give real input not stupid comments. And lastly, get rid of the dumb celebrity brain crash… JUST STUPID WASTE OF TIME. Again I really like the show and I will still watch but I don’t believe I am the only one with these couple minor complaints.

  19. Bob

    Clarkson is a pillock and too full of himself, he got exactly what he deserved from the BBC! Hammond and May are, in my eyes ok.

    I have not even watched TGT yet add I do not want to see the big buffon strutting around acting like a twat and getting rewarded for it….

  20. Eli Logemann

    I think we all see the same thing, just the Guardian is exaggerating and hyperbolizing the issue to sell newspapers and generate Web traffic. I’m hopeful that the boys will figure it out. It’s probably a combination of having to avoid any entanglements with BBC lawyers with trying too hard to prove to Amazon that they’re worth the price. I think when they start to feel comfortable so will we.

    I do hope that they’ll stop scripting “the American” though. If Skinner has a couple things to say about the cars he’s in they’ll sound funny enough just by virtue of his accent and decidedly different point of view. I’m glad it seems like they cut back the number of lines per lap they give him. But I think if the car is good then he should say so, in a country-fied way though. Just having him hate everything and think it’s communist is cringe worthy and boring.

  21. MeToo

    Well I think a big contributing factor to that is the fact that BBC lawyers have thrown so many shackles on the boys that they can’t be as free-wheeling (for lack of a better term) as they were on TG. I love TGT but I definitely do see the scripted bits stand out in the first three eps. I enjoyed them don’t get me wrong, but it just feels like they have so much they want to say and do and can’t because BBC would try to sue Amazon into oblivion.

  22. Adrian

    Ep 2 was a bit poor but Ep 3 was genuinely funny and vintage CHM. They need to bin brain crash and the American and do some adventures like the Bolivian and African specials where they buy cars etc. This was the best part of TG

  23. Barry Moore

    I am also tried of the scripted crap. The third episode, which actually had the seeds of a great show, was wasted with idiotic donuts and horn honking. Why?

  24. Fermier

    Clearly, the Guardian has no sense of humor and wouldn’t know what to do with it if it was given one.

  25. DriftwoodFoto

    Some valid points…but overall TGT is fantastic. Especially the most recent episode 4, I laughed my ass off. TGT is for the most part the best of the old TG, and this latest episode proved it. Great track-reviews of the new Porsche and BMW, and the ridiculous antics we all love between the three; maybe a little scripted at times, but they still come up with this stuff and make it work.

    It’s not all glory for them though…there are some letdowns. “The American” and “Celebrity Brain Crash” are rubbish and tiresome. I get why they’re doing the celebrity thing, a big old FU to the lawyers at the BBC, but will it be/does it need to be in every episode? They made their point in the first couple episodes, we get it and are glad they did something to address the issue, so maybe now it’s time to move on. Hopefully the did. As for “The American,” this could have been seriously entertaining; instead it’s one-dimensional drivel with poor delivery. IF they keep the character they need to find someone better to do it.

    Despite any scripting or a bad casting choice in the new driver, I look forward to TGT every week–and being that I’m in the US, I can watch it on Thursday’s nights thanks to the the difference in time zones!

  26. Keith G

    “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.” Of everything, that is what I agree with. The original hour / 2 hour specials in Top Gear where they had to drive 1,000 miles in some $1,000 car and had to complete ridiculous A-Team mods and crazy challenges… That was the sweet spot for Top Gear, and what The Grand Tour should be. Stop with the killing celebrities, stop with the scripts… just have fun, guys, that’s what we want to see you do. Let’s get back to the days of “Team Gin and Tonic”

  27. KDad

    I kind of agree. Too much pretending and not enough just being themselves. It seems that in trying to reinvent their show they have forgotten how to just be regular knuckleheads.

  28. Jason

    Although I’ve enjoyed the show thus far, I can’t really disagree with the Guardian’s assessment even though I don’t want to.

  29. Tru Grit

    .. thing is, even in this weakened state .. it’s still better than 90% of anything else on the TV ..

  30. Thom

    I think analysis of the analysis of GT is balderdash. Watching GT is like tripping out on acid without the unpredictable effects. It’s spaced-out bliss without the paranoia of analysis. I’m feeling kinda trippy right now. If you watch GT in a large enough dose you will hallucinate, some good and not so good. I’m seeing a hedgehog driving a car right now!

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