Amazon bet big and large on “The Grand Tour” — their winter series from original “Top Gear” hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May — and their gamble seems to have paid off bigtime for the streaming service. Not only was the series’ premiere episode (Nov. 18) welcomed with the largest ratings in Amazon’s original series history, but “The Grand Tour” was also a long-awaited welcome home for longtime “Top Gear” fans.
(For the rest of us, it was an opportunity to see if Clarkson has learned anything from his career-endangering controversies — and though the show’s editing is precise enough to have left that one up in the air, we can’t imagine him doing any such thing.)
But was “The Grand Tour” successful? Did it actually manage to recapture the same qualities that made the BBC show such a hit in the first place? We waited for the finale (Feb. 3) to make sure.
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In many ways, “The Grand Tour” was an experimental series, despite having the same hosts and general format of “Top Gear.” It was unlike anything Amazon had done before — allowing Clarkson, May, and Hammond to test out new segments and running gags while abandoning “Top Gear” segments they didn’t feel like doing anymore. All of this led to a season that understandably had both its high and low points. And that’s not bad for a series that, in its essence, is trying to catch lightning in a bottle for the second time.
It only seems fitting then that “Grand Tour” concluded its first season with an episode aptly titled “Past v. Future,” in which the three hosts continued to debate the merits of electric vs. old fashioned gasoline-powered cars, re-evaluated some of their decisions earlier in the season, and looked boldly into the future of “The Grand Tour.”
The episode was surprisingly understated for a season finale, and didn’t quite finish the season off with a bang. Like the rest of the season, some of the gags worked to varying degrees of success. It was a solid episode of “The Grand Tour,” nothing more and nothing less, even if it might not have been the highlight episode of the season.
That honor undoubtedly still goes to the two-episode journey through the Namibian desert a few episodes prior, which allowed the three hosts to have some of their most outrageous and organic hijinks in their entire time working together. Seeing Jeremy Clarkson almost go headfirst down a dangerous desert slope, or the trio’s reaction to realizing they’d circled back to their starting point in the middle of the night, made the entire journey feel worth it.
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That being said, seeing Clarkson and May go on a 200-mile journey to finally decide once and for all whose car was better — and more efficient, between May’s electric and Clarkson’s gas-fueled BMW — still managed to provide a constant stream of laughs. Even if the topic itself and the segment felt a bit recycled from all of the other many, many times Clarkson and company have gotten worked up over this particular debate.
It also proved once more that there’s few things “The Grand Tour” relishes more than letting Clarkson troll his friends. His genuine giggle at his car’s muddled Apple voice-command system was one of the most infectious of the season, with May’s confused reaction to the nonsensical text messages only reinforcing how much “Top Gear” was never really about the cars, no matter how badly the BBC would like to say it was.
There’s no telling if “The Grand Tour” will ever be able to escape the shadow of “Top Gear,” with some fans watching the new Amazon series and claiming the series had passed its prime. It’s an argument with merits, sure — but for those viewers out there who just wanted to see more of May, Hammond and Clarkson interacting with each other, it was exactly what they needed it to be.
“The Grand Tour” is expected to return with its second season on Amazon sometime later this year.
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