Amazon UK TV review: The Grand Tour Episode 5
James R | On 22, Dec 2016
Clarkson, Hammond and May. A trio known for speaking their minds, no matter what the consequence. A fiery bunch of off-the-cuff, controversial middle-aged men unafraid to annoy or shock anyone. That quality is partly what made Top Gear such an international success; wherever you came from, you could be sure that you’d be offended at some point.
Let off the leash by Amazon, both in terms of budget and editorial control, The Grand Tour should be that X-factor multiplied by 50 – an even racier (ahem), pacier show. So why does Episode 5 feel so rehearsed?
Episodes 1 to 4 of The Grand Tour have varied in quality, from a barnstorming opener to the dire second episode, and part of what made the second instalment so disappointing was that the central premise of Clarkson, Hammond and May acting out Call of Duty all seemed so fake. Episode 3 improved things, but still asked us to believe that Hammond turned up unannounced in the middle of a Clarkson and May tour of Italy – a needless construct that was far from convincing. Episode 5 rehashes the same joke, with May and Hammond in Morocco comparing the Mazda MX-5 and Zenos E10 S, only for Clarkson to rock up in an Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, which he famously loves.
What follows is some stunning stuff, as the three of them come across some film sets for Game of Thrones and more. A black-and-white sequence involving Clarkson swooning over his Alfa, accompanied by The Windmills of Your Mind, is a piece of genuine beauty, full of poetic, lyrical edits. There’s nothing false about it, just one guy in a car, who knows it looks good and isn’t pretending otherwise.
It’s a jarring contrast to a running joke that Hammond thinks the sets are actually real fragments of ancient alien civilisation – something that feels almost as scripted as James May, back in the studio, pretending to have the munchies. Because yes, the show is in Rotterdam this episode, and we all know how those Dutch types like their drugs, right?
It’s telling that these are the bits that stick out the most in the hour. Compared to a mild Brexit reference and a completely unfunny bit about euthanasia, the real low-point is the bit where Clarkson inflates a sex doll with an exhaust pipe, something that’s so keen to be spontaneous that any spontaneity races out the door. And let’s not even mention Celebrity Brain Crash, which is the laziest incarnation of it yet.
The prospect of going back to Morocco isn’t much compensation – the cliffhanger for the split segment is Clarkson building a set of scales to weigh the three cars, which is hardly scintillating telly – but there is a surprising drag race on offer.
Instead, the highlight turns out to be a sequence that feels the closest to old Top Gear so far: a game of Battleships using cars as the ships and, erm, more cars as the ammunition. It’s got explosions, unexpected tension and some fun banter, all without feeling pre-planned. What a shame, therefore, that it goes on for five minutes too long, just enough to see the shine start to wear off. Chop off that excess, along with the scripted gags, and The Grand Tour can still harness that appeal our presenters once stumbled upon. Perhaps the promise of a Christmas episode next, in Finland, will be just the thing to nudge things out of autopilot. That, or the two-part Namibia special on the 30th and 31st December.
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.