The start of Season 4 of The Grand Tour got off to a rocky start. While a lot of viewers had reacted positively to the on-water special, a larger proportion than usual have reacted negatively. In fact, reviews of a Grand Tour episode have never been so low, with the Independent giving it only 1 star out of 5, for example.
So what did The Grand Tour do wrong, if anything? In this article, I’m going to dig into the changes that have been made to the show coming from the third season and try and pinpoint what made this first Cambodia / Vietnam special so controversial.
A Change Of Writers
Originally behind the scripts of Top Gear and more recently The Grand Tour, Richard Porter was absent from the making of Season 4. In fact, he posted on Twitter that apart from the initial idea stage, he wasn’t involved in any of the work for the first time in 17 years.
In the meantime, there's a new Grand Tour special out so maybe watch that. First TG/GT thing in 17 years I've had nothing to do with so I'm sure it's especially good. https://t.co/6yJ4z9jA6C
— Sniff Petrol (@sniffpetrol) December 13, 2019
No script, no cars, not much to do on GT.
— Sniff Petrol (@sniffpetrol) December 13, 2019
If you take a look at the replies, again there was a mixed bag with a few wondering if this was the reason the show wasn’t quite up to par as previous episodes.
Ah. That explains quite a bit.
— Jane M (@ridesandskis) December 13, 2019
This leads me onto my second point quite nicely, so *boom*, subheading.
Lack Of Story
There’s a magic behind reliving a great rally, or building a car to get back to society, or travelling through Africa to find the source of the River Nile. It feels like an adventure and there’s a defined purpose, and while watching it we almost feel the feeling of getting closer to that end goal that Clarkson, Hammond and May must be longing for.
Seamen’s goal was to simply boat down a river. Not very interesting when you compare it to some of the greatest specials from the past, is it? Plus, the fact that a lot of the water had dried up must have knocked them back a bit, forcing them to quickly change their plans. This formed a quick discussion about climate change, and the last thing we want to hear is Clarkson talking about that. Not because he’s not an incredibly intelligent man, but because the silly, pompous, anti-claimate change act that he uses to make us all laugh was broken. Small niggle, but thought I’d drop it in.
So the presenters eventually get to their boats and make their way down the river towards Vietnam, and I think there’s a clear change that could have been made to remedy what comes next.
Not Just Boats, But Three Boats
I’m fine with boats. I’m here to watch the trio’s chemistry as they joke with each other and work around the issues they encounter no matter what vehicle it involves. Wheels, wings, or hulls, give me anything. But I believe what made the rest of the special not so interesting was the fact that they were on three separate boats.
Their characters were split by bodies of water, and this meant that only when they were close to each other they could they communicate properly. The objective of getting to the end of the river became an individual mission for each of them, only accentuated by the differing performance of the crafts. Clarkson could power ahead, while James May was left behind. Clarkson even said in an interview that Hammond and May were so far behind he was starting to worry.
“But Alex, they’ve done boats before!” I hear you scream. Yes the days of the Toybota aren’t lost on me. But do you remember what happened at the end of the episode where they attempt to cross the channel? They end the episode with each of them on one boat working together. It was truly a brilliant episode and I believe that’s not only down to the fact that what they accomplished was very impressive, but also because they did it as a team.
Seamen was so far from being team orientated and this made it feel weird and disjointed.
They Looked Miserable
Seamen was the most dangerous episode yet, and it showed. From the awful weather to Hammond’s infection and James May’s brush with death, there was one thing after another while filming this special and this must have been difficult to push through. Putting on a smile and laughing to the camera must be difficult when you’re in pain and battling with waves to just get to dry land.
It was obvious it wasn’t the most enjoyable episode to film, so when the end finally came, the trio looked defeated. While Jeremy made a quick joke about Top Gear which made us laugh, it ended abruptly and didn’t have the triumph that most episodes end on, possibly due to the fact they were so separated by this point.
I’m Picking Hairs
Please don’t take this as me saying it was a bad episode. There are so many good parts to this episode which I’m not including in this article because I’m focussing on the negatives, and I really am picking hairs.
I’m a massive fan of all the work from Clarkson, Hammond and May and watch (and read) their content avidly. Because of this, I do however feel that this wasn’t their best, and due to the backlash the episode is getting, thought I’d explore why.
I think it’s important to identify and make known what we didn’t like about episodes. Only then will they know how to change things in the future to improve. Of course, the same goes for what we loved about the episode, and we’ll get to that soon.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments, even if you loved the episode. What can they improve on, or was it perfectly suited to your tastes? This article was composed from my own tastes and what I’ve seen on social media from you, the fans, but it’s important to remember that these are all opinions and should be treated as such.