In this week’s Grand Tour, the presenters try (and mostly fail) to make an unscripted film. But everything else is good, I promise.
In the first segment, Richard finally gets a go at the Eboladrome in the McLaren 720S. Built to replace the 650S, and with an engine bay that glows red, it’s apparently quite good. I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but it bears noting that all the cinematography, the dialogue, the Hammond-spinning-out, is purely TopGear, with all the fun that entails. Apparently Richard’s time at driving school in an M4 paid off; combined with the McLaren’s Variable Drift Control, Richard is able to get very sideways and make a very fun review, but I also can’t help but notice that for Abbie’s second lap on the show, Clarkson still avoids addressing her by name, which still baffles me. She nevertheless turns a time of 1:17.9, or…exactly the same as the car it replaces.
Next come the Grand Tour Awards (where have we seen this before?), or Nigels, for reasons which cannot be explained. What follows is a quick breakdown of the winners:
Nissan Juke Award for the Worst Car of the Year: Nissan Juke (go figure)
Hard Ass to Follow Award for Worst-Looking Rear End: Land Rover Discovery
You Would But You Know You Shouldn’t Award For A Car That You Like But Shouldn’t Because It’s A Bit Embarrassing: The new Corvette ZR1
Lack of Continuity Award: Richard Hammond, for nearly putting two different cars into the McLaren film
Accidentally Filling Up The Petrol Tank Of A Supercar With Water Award: Richard Hammond, for filling the car in the McLaren film from a jerry can that turned out to be full of water
Finally, the headlining film: a completely unscripted trip through Croatia. I know absolutely nothing about Croatia, and thus treated this film as a learning experience. Clarkson’s choice is the excellent Audi TTRS. He immediately makes a scrotum joke, but is interrupted by Richard’s arrival in the Ariel Nomad, which is really only half a car but shall be treated for our purposes as a full one. James then shows up in a Lada Riva, apparently under the impression that they’re doing a cheap car film in about 2006, and that it will soon be turned into a fire engine.
Clarkson gives us a quick review of the Audi, and they eventually end up at an airport for a race where a news crew from Croatia is conveniently hanging out to accost Hammond. Meanwhile, somewhere far away, James finishes his fire truck and puts out a raging trash fire he definitely didn’t start.
In an uncharacteristically excellent Celebrity Face-Off, Michael Ball and Alfie Boe (two singers with an interesting connection to the auto industry) take the F-Type round the track. Michael’s father worked as British Leyland’s World Sales Chief, in charge of selling very excellently-built cars to very well-heeled customers. Boe, on the other hand, worked firsthand building TVRs, and confirms that TVR’s “craftsmen” were notorious for putting little messages on the cars, spraying each other with cyanide-based paint, and dying on the job. Around the track, Ball ‘s time of 1:23.3 just beats Boe’s 1:24.4, apparently proving that British Leyland is better than TVR, answering a question not a single person has ever asked.
Back in Croatia, after James puts out an unstaged…barbecue, Clarkson decides to challenge Hammond in a bit of rallying, despite the Nomad being better for rallying in every single possible way. Hammond turns a 2:05.7, but still manages to lose to Clarkson’s 2:03.7. Shockingly, James’s Lada is entirely incapable of putting out a bush fire that the other two started, so a real fire plane pipes in with an entirely spontaneous and in-no-way-scripted assault on the Lada instead of the actual fire.
So, the review part. To be honest, this episode doesn’t really live up to the high standard set by the exceptionally decent previous two. Well, let me phrase that differently: this episode is kind of the inverse of those. Neither of the preceding pair of shows had particularly exceptional reviews or faceoffs, but the main film was just what people wanted. In this episode, Hammond’s review of the 720S is possibly the best of the series, as is Celebrity Face-Off, which for once is all about cars.
But most of the “unscripted” jokes in Croatia fall flat; it’s too hard to tell where reality ends and jokes begin, and the tongue-in-cheek style the writers were obviously going for comes off as forced. They didn’t fully explore the unscripted idea, nor the idea of mocking the unscripted idea. James’s fire truck was, to be honest, a bit of a mess. Each time it showed up, he was doing something either contrived or stupidly obvious, and it continually felt like I could have written this episode myself (given enough time) and had it be just as funny.
But don’t lose heart–the season’s not even halfway over. The trio has plenty of chances to get back into the groove and do what everyone wants them to do, which is talk about cars and show us pretty pictures of them, and they’ve proven exceptionally capable on that front in the past.