As we all know now, Top Gear Season 23 was a disaster. Chris Evans ruined the chemistry that the famous trio of Clarkson, May and Hammond had built up. So to no one's surprise, all fans were eagerly waiting for the release of The Grand Tour and to see the boys back in action.
As 2016 came to a close, viewers were finally rewarded with one of the most anticipated shows of the season; and it was quite the release with the opening scene reportedly costing a record $3.2M, making it the most expensive TV scene ever! However, as the episodes released every week, as an old Top Gear fan I noticed something missing. This missing piece was hard to place -- the show had some great cars, ridiculous stunts and the banter that fans had always enjoyed. Clarkson was still ridiculous, May had somehow managed to get even older and Hammond more American. The show was shot beautifully with 4K HDR cameras at some of the most beautiful locations in the world. The part with the celebrities that everyone skipped on Top Gear was finally gone (though it was replaced with an equally stupid Celebrity Brain Crash which was more of a poke at BBC than actually enjoyable content). The beach buggy special was the usual Top Gear two episode road-trip format with customized cars so:
And yet, in classic Clarkson-May-Hammond style, it went quite wrong! Just that this time it wasn't that funny. The boys are car journalists at heart, talking about cars is what they do best. Sure they have their peculiarities -- Clarkson is mad about power(rrr), James' is best when reviewing the Dacia Sandero and Hammond when he's behind a old-school Shelby GT500. Yet, when they are behind the wheels of their favorite cars, their joy is clear enough to move hundreds of millions of viewers. And that is what has been missing from the new show!
There were a few really good films, like the historical film on the Ford GT40 and Clarkson's reviews of the new Aston Martin Vulcan and the Alfa Romeo 4C but the remainder of the show (which was a whole lot) was just banter without real content. Top Gear rose to fame because of the irreplaceable chemistry of the trio and yet overdoing that bit is what is costing The Grand Tour. It's unclear what the banter is about in the new show. During the beach buggy episode, for example, the boys had nothing to be visibly excited about because we never saw them building their cars. They could have bought them off the shelf, for all we know. The trio are fantastic hosts and yet the lack of emotional connection with their primary tools-of-trade creates a distance between them and the viewers they are serving.
Top Gear, at its best, was a car travel show with beautiful drives in old, new or battered cars. What was never missing was each host's absolute love for the car they were driving. The new Top Gear (Season 24) is getting back some of that charm. Matt LeBlanc is an complete petrol head (like Clarkson) and his charisma is bringing the show back to its former glory slow and steady. The chemistry between LeBlanc, Harris and Reid, though nowhere close to the former hosts, is slowly starting to gather momentum. Sadly, on the other hand, The Grand Tour is a very expensive tower with no solid foundation.
LeBlanc is successfully bringing back the soul of Top Gear. Clarkson needs to create one for The Grand Tour...