UK TV review: The Grand Tour Presents… Seamen
James R | On 15, Dec 2019
“I hate boats!” cries Richard Hammond partway through The Grand Tour’s latest globe-trotting adventure. The fact that the whole episode of what is ostensibly a car show takes place on boats, then, doesn’t bode well for the 90-minute special. And, well, those omens prove correct as their voyage unfolds.
It’s been a long time since Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May were last on our screens, with Amazon changing up the way The Grand Tour works – gone is the studio tent, and instead, we just get occasional feature-length specials around the world. It’s a smart move for a series that threatened to run out of steam, as the trio tried to find their groove away from the tried and tested Top Gear formula. The most laboured parts were the try-hard conversations in front of an audience that seemed designed to cause controversy or risk offence. The best bits were the documentary segments that simply let the three men share what they were enthusiastic about.
Clarkson, who has found a surprisingly natural home as the sarcastic but self-deprecating host of ITV’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, is the one who’s most excited about Seamen, to use the special’s schoolboy-giggling title. The episode challenges them to go to Vietnam and Cambodia, and make their way along the Mekong Delta. Clarkson shares potted history along the way, and recommends everyone watch The Killing Fields – although, of course, he does all this slightly more sober presenting from the helm of a Vietnam war-era PBR, as seen in Apocalypse Now.
Hammond, meanwhile, is in a Miami Vice-style speedboat, and May is in a 1939 wooden river cruiser. The 800km journey from Tonlé Sap Lake down the Delta, though, is a challenge for all three vessels, with extremely choppy waters and other boats only adding to the risks. The result is a bizarrely serious piece of TV, which lacks the enjoyment and spark of The Grand Tour’s other specials. The three even seem to spend less time chatting and interacting than normal.
And yet, paradoxically, there’s never any sense of real physical stakes, as the lavish production unit funded by Amazon Studios is on hand to record everything – the show looks epic and the scale is daunting, but the ramshackle peril of their more DIY outings is missing, which leaves things fizzing out, even though Clarkson and May rename Hammond’s boat (“Razzle Dazzle”) to something suggestive.
Sequences of them browsing markets, oddly, feel the closest to The Grand Tour of seasons past, as the trio try to interact with the locals. But despite the occasional splash into entertaining waters, this first of The Grand Tour’s new era finds the show feeling slightly adrift.
The Grand Tour Presents Seamen is available on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.