Amazon UK TV review: The Grand Tour Season 2, Episode 1
Jokes about women4
James R | On 08, Dec 2017
Electric guitars. Helicopters. A desert chase worthy of Mad Max. A year on, the grand premiere of Amazon’s The Grand Tour is still undeniably impressive, with its absurdly expensive production values, epic scale and sheer, unbridled confidence. What a difference 12 months makes, as Season 2 races onto Amazon Prime Video with all the roar of a Toyota Prius – and that lack of buzz turns out to be ideal preparation for this sophomore lap, which opens with a decidedly understated air.
Amazon’s Not Gear swiftly sets out the changes that have been made under the bonnet – and they’re all changes for the better. Moreover, the show, to its credit, is bluntly honest and openly self-aware about why they’ve tinkered with the engine. The American? He’s gone, thankfully, although you can expect another driver to step into his seat in another episode. And Celebrity Braincrash? That’s been dropped too, because “too many celebrities died”, jokes Richard Hammond, before adding candidly: “Also, because you all hated it.” They’ve also ditched the roving tent gimmick, instead pitching their studio in a permanent home in the Cotswolds – because, Hammond and May suggest, it’s down the road from Clarkson’s house.
So what’s left? Essentially, what made Top Gear fun back in its heyday: three bumbling, middle-aged friends insulting each other and some exceedingly good visuals. And so we see them on the road in Switzerland, as they decide to pit against each other the past, present and future of supercars: the petrol-guzzling of the Lamborghini Aventador X (Clarkson), the hybrid mechanics of the Honda NSX (May) and the sleek, all-electric stylings of the Rimac Concept One.
It’s a shame nobody thinks to make a Christmas Carol comparison, but there’s much to enjoy in the filmed segment, which is shot with typically sumptuous visuals. There’s some humour to Hammond’s insistence that they all stay in a wellness retreat, rather than a traditional hotel, solely because it’s the only place in the area with a charging point for his car – and their resulting trips to one nearby town, where the main entertainment involves a pencil museum, are a welcome reminder of the actual chemistry between these blokes. Taunts about them seeing a pracel delivered at Clarkson’s pad are actually funny. They even do a spot of actual car journalism, seemingly coming down in favour of more environmentally friendly vehicles.
Back in the studio, the series unveils its new feature: Celebrity Face Off, which brings on two celebrity guests from similar walks of life to compete on their new race track, which is half-gravel and all narrow. The result is less exciting than you might hope – they compare separate time trials, rather than actually race each other – but it’s an improvement on both The American and Celebrity Braincrash. (David Hasselhoff and The Voice’s Ricky Wilson are good value as guests.)
After a season of painfully forced banter between the gang, the key difference here is a welcome return of a more genuine camaraderie. It’s a disappointment, then, that one thing that hasn’t changed is the hefty dose of sexism that forms part of that camaraderie, mostly courtesy of Clarkson, as he quips about the name for people who eat salad being “women”. A lot of Top Gear and The Grand Tour’s appeal lies on how much you can tolerate the political incorrectness – Season 1 of The Grand Tour saw Hammond apparently go out of his way to offend for no real reason, which was a huge hurdle to enjoyment. Season 2’s opener features several commendable moments where the trio are called out, humiliated or mocked for their dinosaur-like views, but the world has changed a lot in the last year; what was tolerable to some degree has become less so, and it’s frustrating not to see our presenters change with the times, or at least do so in a way that doesn’t use them as the butt of the joke. (Clarkson’s description of he Rimac as a “lady shaver” isn’t funny the first time and only gets less so.)
It all climaxes with Hammond’s fateful crash in the Rimac, which sees his electric supercar fly off the edge of a cliff. It’s a shocking sight and it’s handled with what you sense is actual concern by Hammond’s co-presenters. If they can extend that honest, unscripted sincerity to all the other parts of the show, Season 2 of Amazon’s The Grand Tour has real potential to get back on track. With this confidently familiar, but low-key opener, there’s certainly a sense that The Grand Tour is close to finding its feet.
The Grand Tour Season 2 is available on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive every Friday.