The Grand Tour
I don’t drive. Never have done. I don’t hold a driver’s license and have never been behind the wheel of a car. My life has panned out in such a way that driving has never been a necessity. When I was a teenager, there was always someone else in the social group who drove (thanks’ Chris) and as an adult my other half took up the slack. Plus, I happen to live in an area with great public transport links. Driving has been something that I’ve simply bypassed without any major consequences. Furthermore, I don’t feel that I’ve missed out on anything. Therefore, the entire sub-culture associated with cars and driving is somewhat abstract to me (just like sports). Don’t get me wrong, I can understand its appeal but overall, it’s not relevant to my life.
Therefore, you may be forgiven for assuming that the popular culture phenomenon that is Top Gear is of no interest to me. However, that is in fact not the case. For many years now Top Gear has been an “entertainment” show and Mr. Clarkson a consummate performer. So, I’ve never felt my lack of interest in motoring excluded me from viewing. Irrespective of whether you’re a serious “petrolhead” or not, Top Gear is a show that you can just tune in to and enjoy for what it was; dumb fun. Like many others, I was also interested in the debacle that surrounded Messrs Clarkson, May and Hammond’s departure from the BBC and was curious to see where they’d find a new home. The subsequent move to Amazon Prime seemed a logical choice.
So, today I watched the debut episode of The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime and found the show to be exactly as I expected. Free from the public broadcasting restraints of the BBC and bolstered by the corporate financing of Amazon, The Grand Tour was a loud, self-indulgent, self-assured show that gave fans more of the same. It was extremely entertaining within the parameters of its own remit and was professionally produced. The banter was there along with exotic locations and expensive “boy toys”. The formula had been tweaked sufficiently to avoid any legal issues while still catering to the tastes of the core audience. The Grand Tour is ideal for a medium such as Amazon Prime, being the embodiment of big budget disposable entertainment.
Thus, with such a marriage made in heaven, theoretically The Grand Tour should happily rumble on in its current idiom bringing unbridled joy to its core viewers. However, the shows greatest strength may also prove to be its Achilles Heel. There’s a subtle difference between being knowingly self-referential and self-plagiarising. Clarkson, May and Hammond are at risk of becoming caricatures of themselves. There’s “lads” banter and then there’s just being a bore and it won’t take much for our three leads to step from one side of the line to the other. Then of course there’s the inherent unsustainability of trying to outdo yourself. Each week The Grand Tour is going to have to attempt to better the previous episode. There surely must be limits on the size of explosions you can safely set off and similarly how “outrageous” our hosts can be. Will they eventually outstay their welcomes like the class clown we all new at school?
It’s also worth pondering is populist television entertainment just harmless fun and a convenient means to relax or something more sinister. Is demographic specific programming a subtle way to distract the public from wider social and political issues that may be of concern to them? Are Amazon Prime, Netflix and other online content delivery services just the modern equivalent of bread and circuses? Perhaps that’s a question best left to future historians. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if The Grand Tour can sustain itself and continue to meet expectations. Or whether it will ultimately implode under the weight of its own excesses; a victim of the old adage, “familiarity breeds contempt”?