When I did my review of last week’s The Grand Tour episode Operation Desert Stumble, I was very careful to label my criticisms as overly scripted rather than just the generic criticism of ‘scripted and staged’ which tends to fill the boards of the Petrolheads and Final Gear forums. That’s because The Grand Tour, and Top Gear before it, was always scripted, though of course the script ranged from specific lines that had to be said to just a basic direction where the episode needs to go.
I bring this up because this episode of The Grand Tour is most likely just as scripted as the last episode which I didn’t like. Yet for me, this is the best episode of the series so far and will take some beating because it plays to the strengths of the trio rather than them just trying to be action heroes.
Obviously inspired by the name of their show, Jeremy Clarkson and James May want to go on a Grand Tour like the ones of old, where they go through the beautiful scenery of Italy taking in culture and good food as they go. They even have the cars to fit, with them using an Aston Martin DB11 and a Rolls-Royce Dawn. However Richard Hammond shows up in his loud obnoxious Dodge Hellcat and ruins things.
And as much as Clarkson, Hammond and May are real people, they do play exaggerated character versions of themselves on this show and this is why the humor works in this one. There’s a number of running jokes, with May irritating Clarkson by calling his Aston Martin brown rather than the sun burnt orange Jeremy insists it is and the sheer brutality of Hammond’s Hellcat ruining everyone’s day. This is obviously scripted, but it’s funny because it sees the trio playing off each other in a natural way that we’d expect. We know May is a bit stuffy, so it is funny to see him get incredibly cross when Hammond hammers the Hellcat in tunnels for that admittedly great loud noise.
And with that humor readily delivering, the whole segment works. There is a checklist for a great Top Gear adventure, beautiful scenery, a bit with a track (The Mugello circuit fills in this time) where they can do lapped times, some brilliant cars and of course some bickering. This ticks them all off and it leads to an episode which shows us why were all excited for this show, one where the trio just go off and have fun, and we have fun with them.
Of course that isn’t the only thing in this episode as we get a follow up the first episode. Clarkson bet that his McLaren would be the fastest of the Hybrid cars, and it ended up being the slowest. As a result of this, May and Hammond get to blow up his house. And here they do it, with the right sort of mucking about. It feels very natural as May can’t climb the ladder due to his fear of heights before he squeaks erotically to get a bat to move out of the roof so they can get one with the demolition. Which means blowing it up and setting some trees on fire. It’s a funny segment, nothing too serious but a nice way to cap off the episode.
The reason though I believe this to be better than The Holy Trinity is because there are no real weaknesses to the show this week. Because there is no car test, there is no American so we’re free from his Southern hick ways this time. And while a celebrity does get killed again, Simon Pegg getting attacked by seagulls and falling off a bridge in Whitby, where the show takes place this week, is the funniest it has ever been mainly because that has probably happened at some point.
And going to Whitby is pretty important for The Grand Tour as it is the first time the show has come to the UK since it started. And it’s a great choice as not only is it one of the most gorgeous seaside towns in the country, but because it is placed in the heart of the docks you have a more busy backdrop which is certainly interesting to look at.
It all makes for a brilliant episode which has the right mixture of car love, tomfoolery and genuinely good humor which made Top Gear a hit. More of this sort of thing please rather than you trying to be Jason Bourne in Jordan.
Oh but Jeremy? It’s scraps you get at the bottom of your tray when you buy fish and chips, and I’ve also got the Yorkshire heritage to prove it.