TV Review | The Grand Tour | Seasons 1-3
Show summary: Follow Jeremy, Richard, and James, as they embark on an adventure across the globe, driving new and exciting automobiles from manufacturers all over the world. (IMDb)
This review is going to be a little different to other reviews on this site thanks to this show being non-fiction. Don't get me wrong, it's highly-scripted and lots of scenes are staged, but there's no narrative other than three middle-aged English blokes cocking about in cars. And, to be fair, if you've heard of The Grand Tour or any of it's presenters, that shouldn't really come as any surprise to you.
What I'm going to do is take a quick look at each episode and see what stands out among the 'features' sections. There are some cringe-worthy celebrity sections in the first two seasons, plus the usual car tests followed by them being timed around a lap of their 'Eboladrome' test track, as well as a section called Conversation Street, which replaces the News section of the previous incarnation of Top Gear on the BBC.
The thing is, these sections all pretty much play out the same way and aren't really why most people are watching the show. The majority of the audience will have followed the presenters from the BBC to Amazon because of their (usually antagonistic) relationships with each other. That's still present and usually the best part of any given episode.
The Holy Trinity - the showdown between the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 and the Ferrari LaFerrari is pretty fun from start to finish and has a very funny ending. Off to a smooth start.
Operation Desert Stumble - the guys taking part in a military simulation and using the gimmick from Edge of Tomorrow is unfortunately nowhere near as fun as it sounds. Struggling to maintain speed.
Opera, Art and Donuts - a tour of Italy for Clarkson and May is ruined for them (and the audience) by Richard Hammond at his irritating, unbearable worst. Risking disqualification.
Enviro-mental - an attempt at creating environmentally-friendly vehicles has a fair few funny moments, but feels far too scripted to be truly memorable. Slowly regaining control.
Moroccan Roll - playing Battleship with a lot of G-Wiz's may be shorter, but feels more genuine than the trip to Morocco, but the latter still has it's moments too. Upping the power.
Happy Finnish Christmas - the Christmas gifts section is the largest 'feature' of what is comfortably the worse episode so far. Spinning off the track.
The Beach (Buggy) Boys Part 1 - little variety to the scenery and a lot of nothing happening makes me wonder why this Namibia special needed to be two parts. Middle of the pack.
The Beach (Buggy) Boys Part 2 - a much, much more enjoyable episode that makes the first part look even worse thanks to a lighter tone and greater variety to scenery and events. Back on the power.
Berks to the Future - a number of mini-features this time, none of which felt particularly funny or interesting to me. Struggling to catch up.
Dumb Fight at the O.K. Coral - the coral-building feature in this episode feels like it was something thrown together while the team was on an actual holiday. Giving up on the win.
Italian Lessons - a boring tour of a grey, wet chunk of northern France in Maseratis that should've left an injured James May out. Struggling to last the distance.
[censored] to [censored] - much improved with a drive through Germany and Austria in SUVs that's only undermined by the juvenile comedy relating to the town names. A late charge.
Past v Future - a weak finish to the first season with another set of mini features that have their moments but are otherwise completely unmemorable. Failing to make it into the points.
Past, present or future - Hammond may crash (again) in this episode, but the scenery, the cars and the fun are all high throughout this very good first episode. Off to a flier.
The Falls Guys - Hammond's injury may have (somewhat) highlighted the issues handicapped/disabled people may face when travelling, but it all feels a little too fake again. Losing speed.
Bah humbug-atti - May's business park racing is the only real fun I found in this collection of features that has little else to offer. An early retirement?
Unscripted - much like the reaction to the radiation readings in the first episode of Chernobyl, this isn't great, but isn't terrible either. Steadying the ship.
Up, down and round the farm - another set of mini-features that, once again, aren't particularly good or bad, so it'll depend on the individual viewer here. Trying to catch up.
Jaaaaaaaags - not up there with the best of their work, but it's still a fun ride from start to finish thanks to how much the guys seem to be enjoying themselves. Closing the gap to the front.
It's a gas, gas, gas - the refuelling bit is pretty poor, but the Lancia vs Audi main feature is really, really good, even if you had no idea about this before now (like me). Challenging for the lead.
Blasts from the past - another strong episode that is very funny, with the guys all clearly having fun and none of it coming across as overly-scripted for me. Taking first place.
Breaking, badly - the boys go back to the reliably-enjoyable subject of amphibious vehicles, with a surprisingly triumphant ending. Extending the lead.
Oh, Canada - mostly enjoyable, but falls flat with an ending that feels like it was filmed after the race was finished to add some humour (and failing) to the challenge. Losing speed.
Feed the world - one of the worst specials the guys have been involved in, with a terrible challenge to justify it. Starts funny, but the joke grows old fast. Pipped at the flag.
Motown Funk - another strong season opener, with some interesting history and the guys all getting their moments to shine. Starting strong.
Colombia Special Part 1 - much like the previous challenge, the tasks they're given are a flimsy excuse at best, but the episode is still enjoyable. Keeping up with the leaders.
Colombia Special Part 2 - a strangely flat ending, but another decent episode that maybe proved that this challenge didn't need to be two parts either. Maintaining position.
Pick Up, Put Downs - this episode delayed this review going up because I couldn't remember it at all and wanted to watch it again to make sure I hadn't somehow skipped it. Newsflash: I hadn't, it's just that unmemorable. Down on power.
An Itchy Urus - the feature on Jim Clark in this episode is easily one of the best things The Grand Tour has done and is an absolute must-watch. Storming into the lead.
Chinese Food for Thought - this feels a lot like a first season episode, with it all feeling a little too try-hard to be any fun. Slipping back down the rankings.
Well Aged Scotch - a good, but not great episode around some very pretty Scottish scenery that feels very much like a filler episode with the guys in cruise control. Holding position.
International Buffoons' Vacation - a few poor moments aside, an enjoyable and often very funny episode that I'd happily watch again. Closing in on the front.
Aston, Astronauts and Angelina's Children - a slip back into the lulls of the second season, with an assortment of smaller features that all proved to be so-so. Losing ground.
The Youth Vote - James May gets a chance to shine in this odd, but fun episode. The Countach vs Testarossa section is also pretty damn good. Putting the foot down.
Sea to Unsalty Sea - another really good episode, this time with Abbie Eaton getting a chance to shine and showing just why she's the show's best driver. Challenging for the lead.
Legends and Luggage - the Porsche 917/Dickie Atwood section is very good, as is the motorised luggage section which gives Abbie another chance to shine. Sneaking into first place.
Survival of the Fattest - one of the best specials the guys have ever done, with some of the most incredible scenery you'll see in any TV show. Pulling away into a commanding lead.
Funeral for a Ford - not the strongest episode to finish on, but I still enjoyed it. The ending, looking back at their time on both The Grand Tour and Top Gear was also very, very good. Holding on for the win!
As a whole, the first season was pretty poor, the second season a bit better and the third season was even better still. It's impressive the Clarkson, Hammond, May and the others behind the show have shown signs of being able to see what works and what doesn't, rather than just coasting on past success.
The best addition to the format has been Abbie Eaton as their test driver, thanks to how seriously she takes her driving. She's obviously immensely skilled behind the wheel - which the guys are always very quick to acknowledge - but it's her seriousness when taking part in some of the features contrasting perfectly with the guys' idiocy that seals the deal.
The Grand Tour effectively offers more of the same as when the trio of Clarkson, Hammond and May were together on Top Gear. This is both the main selling point and also the show's biggest weakness - it's usually enjoyable, but there's always that nagging feeling of having seen it all before. Still, the show feels like it's on an upwards curve in terms of quality, so season 4 might be pretty damn good.