4 Things We Want to See Change in Season 2 of The Grand Tour
Season 2 starts Friday, so here's our wish list of improvements to be made to the show.
Amazon Studios' The Grand Tour, a phoenix born from the ashes of BBC's Top Gear, has not yet burned as bright as its predecessor. The show's first season was lambasted for reliance on artificial-feeling scripting, not to mention a multitude of ill-considered recurring segments. Celebrity Brain Crash ceased to be funny after the second time, The American's quips garnered little more laughter, and the transition to The News™-replacing segment, Conversation Street, was jarring. All in all, nothing special from the boys responsible for Top Gear episodes such as the stunning Vietnam, Africa, and Middle East specials, the Aston Martin V12 Vantage review, and the Britcar 24 Hour race episode.
Clarkson, Hammond, and May have proven themselves capable of producing profound, yet amusing television, which made sitting through the teething problems of The Grand Tour—at times—painful. The trio knows that their first flight under the wings of Amazon saw much turbulence, and are making changes to the second season's format to avoid becoming what they describe as "ambitious, but rubbish." Here is what we at The Drive hope to see improved.
1. Celebrity Brain Crash
Odds are, you got as tired of this joke as fast as we did. Humor is not at its best when predictable. The joke was beaten to death in the very first episode, with six stars "killed off," making the segment feel like a self-aware attempt to leave celebrity segments behind. The segment's reappearance the following episode made us realize we would have to sit through an entire season of this nonsense, punctuated each time by an uncharacteristic quip by James May, and an overwrought, scripted line from Richard Hammond.
We are grateful to say that we already know this segment has been replaced by something better. A front-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo sedan, cut crossways by Clarkson and dubbed "Halfa Romeo," will serve as this season's celebrity chariot. Whether the challenge is to set a fast lap, or see how far an A-lister can drive before spinning remains yet to be seen.
2. The American
Top Gear's test driver, the unspeaking Stig, needed a parallel on The Grand Tour. Due to the risk of a lawsuit for having too similar a test driver, The American, loudmouthed stock car driver Mike Skinner, was introduced as The Stig's (unpopular) surrogate. Of all the cars driven by Skinner, only the Ford Mustang GT was praised; his complaints about every other vehicle revolved around not having a V8, using forced induction, or being anything other than front-engined, and rear wheel drive. As a walking stereotype, his comedic value is limited.
While we believe that Skinner could have been funny, had he been written better lines, the show's producers dismissed him earlier this year, and his role seems to have been replaced by a revolving door cast of F1 drivers, car thieves, and stunt drivers. It's one of many solutions to the problem that was The American's poor entertainment value, and we'll see if it works out this season.
When the show was announced, early trailers had us convinced that the new show would be an avalanche the best part of Top Gear: the challenges, road trips, infighting over whose car was best, and cross-country odyssies in the far corners of the globe. Some of their most profound moments were filmed halfway around the globe from their home in the U.K., in locales such as Vietnam, the Arctic, Israel, Australia, and the United States.
Even though they can't revive the cheap car challenge, the long journeys remained some of the best parts of The Grand Tour, though they were not as numerous as expected, and their proceedings didn't always feel organic. This segues into the next point...
4. Scripting & Production
There is no denying that Clarkson, Hammond, and May made heavy use of scripting throughout their Top Gear days, but in the first season of The Grand Tour, the scripted moments were not as well concealed, leaving much of the first season feeling contrived. The boys are not short on chemistry, so why rely on stilted scripting when they get along so well on their own?
The entirety of episode two, "Operation Desert Stumble," was tolerable, provided one could forgive its glacial pace and predictable jokes, but most viewers were not left with a desire to re-watch the episode again, ever. It featured no spontaneity, a signature strength of the hosts.
Some of the scripting even forces the three to act unlike themselves. The Land Rover challenge, for example, featured James May slaving away at the absurd task of tearing up the countryside to build a brick oven. These actions were made hard to swallow by the dozen years spent on Top Gear being the voice of pragmatism and reason, the foil to Clarkson and Hammond's bravado and hubris. Like the line, "does that mean he's not coming on, then," the act felt out of character for our favorite British pedant, disrupting suspension of disbelief. That said, the challenge still made for one of the season's most memorable segments, with Clarkson's car decaying as the challenge progressed, and Hammond's going up in flames.
The comparative review of the Ford Mustang GT and Focus RS suffered from both ill-timed and choreographed events that would not have been out of place in a low-budget daytime TV drama, rather than one of the world's most popular motoring shows. Hammond's supposed disappearance around the truck, losing Clarkson, a device to push the Focus to the forefront, was not the smoothest transition seen on the show, and felt like a contrivance.
None of this is to say that the trio's spark has been lost; the beach buggy special featured none of the issues described above, and was the crown jewel of season one. Camaraderie and banter, hubris and downfall, and adventure and mis—all present, all hallmarks of the best episodes of the Top Gear era.
With two of the above gripes are already addressed by Amazon Studios, and the others on track to suffer fewer teething problems in the second season, we have faith that Friday's episode will blow half of season one out of the water. It is all uphill from there, too.