The Grand Tour’s biggest weakness to date has been its repeatedly forced and contrived nature, particularly when it comes to Clarkson, Hammond and May’s banter. It’s to the show’s credit, then, that they actually pay attention to such criticisms, and decide to tackle them head-on in Episode 4. Titled “Unscripted”, it features a “completely unscripted” film made in Croatia.
It’s an inspired move, and one that proves highly entertaining from the off. Meeting a space organ that’s too noisy for us to properly hear the presenters, Clarkson promptly fudges his introduction to his car (an Audio TT RS), while he and Hammond are interrupted mid-drive by news crews and, in the middle of one conversation, by a passer-by wanting to take a selfie. They get stuck in traffic, they fail to find a space to do an impromptu drag race, and they get cold without any appropriate clothing.
As for James May? He, rather brilliantly, seems to think he’s in a different challenge entirely: while Hammond’s Ariel Nomad and Clarkson’s Audi are going head-to-head, May is attempting to turn a Lada into a fire engine, for reasons nobody really understands.
Of course, all this unprepared silliness is intercut with some slickly edited on-wheels footage, which showcase the Audio and the Ariel at full speed – you may recall Matt LeBlanc skidding around in a Nomad in Top Gear not too long ago, and The Grand Tour certainly does justice to the buggy’s zippy, bouncy style.
It’s a nice counterpart to the more organised car journalism segment, which sees Richard “Whoops, I did it again” Hammond tasked with putting the new McLaren 720S through its paces. Hammond dives into the car’s drift control settings, reminding us that when doing straight-faced reviewing, Hammond can be an engaging, mature presence.
Alas, the maturity doesn’t last long, as we find ourselves back in the studio tent, where Celebrity Face Off has yet another neat double-act: Alfie Boe and Michael Ball. (For those who wanted an end to the American/British format every episode, this is another example of the series’ producers seemingly taking on board audience feedback.) Boe and Ball are game for a giggle, with the latter also having to fend off quips from Clarkson about the age of his fans – and how they probably smell of urine.
It’s the kind of lazy remark that we’ve come to expect from Clarkson, who also goes on to mention Sarah Palin in their end-of-2017 awards segment – she is given as an example of a contender for the “You Know You Shouldn’t But You Would Anyway Award”. If that might seem like a deliberately provocative comment, the kind Hammond has taken to delivering since the trio’s jump to Amazon, it’s a shame to see them just as rife in the “unscripted” field: Hammond and Clarkson’s drag race is overseen by a random woman called Sylvia, whom both men leer at, while joking about being distracted from driving.
A gag about him driving off with Sylvia to feed her pets is both sexist and unfunny, but is also almost definitely pre-written. You just wish that they could cut out the rest of it when they’re behaving normally – because, after two promising episodes, the rest of the show continues to strike the right tone and humour. The Grand Tour may have proven its point to fans about the need to script things in advance, but it only confirms such outdated blokes’ chatter as frustratingly genuine.
The Grand Tour Season 2 is available on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive every Friday.