Right, we’re going to try to do something no other The Grand Tour critic has ever done. Do a review with only the tiniest reference to the BBC’s Top Gear, with that reference only being here to tell you that we’re doing this. After all, this feels like the right time to do it. Enviro-Mental is the fourth episode of The Grand Tour and we sort of know what’s being carried through to Amazon and what is being ditched. We know the structure, we know what we are getting. So it’s time to judge it on its own merits.
And this week’s episode, which remains in Whitby because Jeremy Clarkson no longer has a house because it was blown up and/or James May lost the tent back, follows a pretty well trodden but successful formula. The trio are challenged to make something that will innovate the car industry, and everything quickly goes wrong.
This time, they are tackling the environment, which was always going to go well considering Clarkson’s well-known views on global warming. They bring up the very good point that no matter who eco the actual car is, the making of the car pumps out so much CO2 that it heavily damages the environment without even driving it. So the trio get a Land Rover Discovery each, take off the body work and are told to replace it with something sustainable. May makes his out of mud, Hammond’s out of trees and Clarkson’s makes his out of animal bones which makes it look like something out of Cannibal Holocaust. They are then told to go 11 miles to take on a eco challenge.
The challenge is very similar to last week, in that there are clearly scripted jokes which sometimes work and sometimes don’t, while a vein of improvisation and we’ll see what happens is in there to make everything work. So yes, May’s car collapsing when he decides to switch from mud to brick is very fake, and honestly looked like CGI, but the flies that make Clarkson’s life very irritating feel all so real. And the story of the sound guy who vomited when he adjusted a microphone in the bone car is also probably real. It seems like that car had a devastating effect on everyone involved, as Amazon’s Trivia section (Which you can see by moving your mouse while watching the show on desktop) handily tells us that Hammond quit eating red meat after the filming of this episode. It all makes for a fun challenge that will not probably be the best The Grand Tour does this season, but is definitely rewatchable.
The episode however kicks off with a car test with Clarkson testing the Porsche 911 GT3 RS (I better get all those letters right or the Porsche geeks will kill me) against the BMW M4 GTS. Here is where The Grand Tour does best because it realizes how to unite the divisions in its fanbase. The regular folk may like looking at supercars and appreciate seeing them going at full chat, but they aren’t here for a technical discussion on the finer points of its suspension and if it goes on for too long they will turn however. The car nerds at the other end of the spectrum however wish the mucking about could be reduced and that there should be way more detail in the reviews and segments. My brother, who is definitely a car nerd, has said he wishes that when a car break downs on one of the epic road trips, they could put more detail into who they fixed it even though that would put most people to sleep. However this review of the Porsche and BMW shows can this can be bridged.
With this review being framed as not just a review of a Porsche, but a Porsche that Richard Hammond owns, there is a narrative in how Clarkson usually bashes his cars and winds him up over owning terrible motor vehicles. So even if you don’t care about these two cars, you will care if Clarkson either hates the Porsche and then goes on to irritate Hammond about it, or has to swallow his pride and admits he likes the rear-engined powerhouse. It’s a subtle trick, but one that allows them some leeway to go into a bit more of the car nerdery without losing their mainstream audience.
It all leads to a very fun episode. This doesn’t excel or have as many great moments as the first and third episode, but it has very little flaws. Yes there is The American, but we all know about that problem now and it’s relatively painless. The Grand Tour continues to impress in its first season.