Amazon UK TV review: The Grand Tour Episode 4
Ivan Radford | On 21, Dec 2016
After The Grand Tour seemed to find its gear in Episode 3, the fourth instalment of Amazon’s motoring show sees Clarkson, Hammond and May veer in a disappointing direction once more.
The episode begins in fine fettle, as we return to Whitby for the second time – a backdrop that not only continues to look charmingly pleasant, but also means that our presenting trio have even more chance to settle into a more comfortable groove, given their audience are all on home turf. And sure enough, that also means that the show anchors itself more on the car side of the track than previous outings – a welcome sign that the series’ petrol-headed passion hasn’t waned. Almost immediately, there’s a face-off between a Porsche 911 GT3 RS and a BMW M4 GTS.
But that only emphasises one of the show’s weaker parts: The American. The idea of replacing The Stig with a NASCAR driver – one with a name, no less – remains a good idea to differentiate The Grand Tour from Top Gear, but it would help if that good idea was actually funny. And, no matter how much good will we have towards him, The American and his dreadful jokes (“BMW… British Motor Works”) simply aren’t funny.
This, really, is the bottom line for judging The Grand Tour: is it entertaining? If it’s doing car-heavy stuff, it needs to be fun enough to keep casual viewers happy, but if they’re going to do things such as run around playing Call of Duty in Episode 2, they need to justify the silliness with genuine humour. Take Celebrity Braincrash, a gag that is treading the line dangerously between amusing and old. (Jimmy Carr on a jet ski is, at the very least, a novel use of Whitby’s waters.)
You’d think, then, that a segment involving the three presenters having to build their own car would be solid gold telly: some of the group’s best work has been when they have been tasked with assembling cheap knock-off vehicles out of spare parts. But when they’re asked to create an environmentally-friendly car, the result is classic Clarkson, Hammond and May in the wrong way.
May’s use of cow dung to cover a Land Rover and make it greener is rather nifty – not to mention his chassis made of bricks – while Hammond’s garden car looks surprisingly nice. But Clarkson, being Clarkson, goes several steps too far with the debut of an animal car. That is, a car covered in bits of animal. There’s rotten hide, furry sides and, across the wind-screen, a cow’s anus stretched until it’s transparent. He grins proudly at his gross creation, boasting of how it made one of the crew throw up. But this isn’t big and it isn’t clever: it’s just repulsive.
For car lovers watching, you can’t help but feel they’d be bewildered by this bloody bit of butchery, while casual audiences are more likely to heave than let out a hearty chuckle. It’s hard to know what the point of it is, other than to get that reaction. On the BBC, there was an underlying tension to Clarkson’s inappropriate comments and behaviour, because there was a risk that it might land him in trouble. On Amazon, where the site has not interfered editorially with the show, there’s no boundary to push back against. For someone like Frankie Boyle, a comedian who has grown out of his once-censored role on BBC’s Mock the Week, that freedom has revealed the Scot to be an insightful, intelligent and hilariously provocative commentator. Clarkson, on the other hand, is an old man who covered a car in bits of dead animal for the sake of it.
Since its broadcast, Amazon has gone global, launching its Prime Video service (including The Grand Tour) to almost every country around the world. It has become apparent, though, that Amazon did cut down the episode for Indian streamers, as Clarkson’s use of a cow would be deemed entirely unsuitable for a country where the cow is a sacred animal to denominations such as Hindus. Indeed, according to IMDb (spotted by Mashable), the 62-minute episode has been cut to around 30 minutes in India. Even then, though, Clarkson’s behaviour doesn’t seem to have a point to it – and, crucially, doesn’t inspire laughter. A brief rant about TripAdvisor is just as oddly unfunny.
The result means you’ll never look at a cow in the same way again. It’s a strange halfway house between new and old Clarkson, Hammond and May – a suggestion that The Grand Tour is, no matter how confidently the tent is unrolled in each location, still finding its feet. Hopefully, it can find its funny bone at the same time.
The Grand Tour is available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or as part of £79 annual Amazon Prime membership. New episodes arrive at 00.01GMT every Friday for 12 weeks, starting 18th November 2016. For more on how to watch The Ground Tour, click here.