The first episode wasn’t bad, although the banter is still in hide-behind-a-cushion territory; the usual race across inhospitable landscapes in old bangers, studio celebrity interview and a supercar on a track, but that’s the problem really. Both Top Gear and The Grand Tour can’t move past the prehistoric premise that any global motoring show has to follow a set pattern, set in train so well by Clarkson decades ago.
Have we really not progressed? Does the audience still really crave nothing but guys fishtailing each other out of the way in old bangers, with four-letter expletives being bleeped out? Both shows appear to be in a bizarre race to the bottom now; it’s a zero-sum game for who can create a programme that smacks of Harry Hill, Seventies-esque, farce-based “hilarity” and “phwooaar” sexy supercars.
Top Gear had a real opportunity, especially with Amazon just aping the BBC format but with bigger budgets, to do something different, radical. They were handed the brand equity inherent in Top Gear on a plate – and who gets offered such a strong brand to run with from scratch in the real world? They could have, and should have, taken some risks with it; the audience was already hostile towards Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson in it, so they didn’t have much to lose. Instead of setting themselves up for an inevitable fall by trying to be Clarkson-lite, they could have steered it purposefully away from the May/Hammond/Clarkson tribute act that Le Blanc/Reid/Harris has already morphed into, and done something to reflect the world we’re living in.