Five minutes past midnight on Friday 13th 2017, I crept into bed, activated the TV and logged in to my Amazon account for the latest installment of The Grand Tour. Yes, granted, a TV bed is a bit naff, but I'm powerless to resist anything with a motor, even if it is puny and under-powered and takes forever for the television to emerge from it's concealed hideaway at the foot of the bed. I had eagerly anticipated Episode 10 as they were finally going to review the greatest car from 2016, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde.
After an enthralling ten minutes of Jeremy giving the latest offering from Alfa Romeo a good spanking on some Welsh backroads, the show descended into chaos. The next 50 minutes were spent showing scripted high-jinx as the team attempted to dump stripped car bodyshells to the foot of the Caribbean Sea with some predictable gaffes. Frustratingly, and like many of the ten episodes we have seen so far, the bulk of the content was only loosely based on the automotive theme and there was little to tantalise the car fanatic. Episode 10 was representative of what we have seen so far of the Grand Tour - huge promise, this week in the form of a review from the marque of the true petrolhead, followed by too much fluff and deliberately choreographed comedy.
At this stage, and before I'm accused of being unduly biased, I feel obligated to qualify myself as a fan and indeed a critic. I am a true car nerd and big Clarkson, Hammond and May fan. I have watched Top Gear since it was "that pokey motoring show on BBC2 on a Thursday night". When the decision was announced not to renew the trio's contracts with the BBC, I was firmly in the Grand Tour camp, and I, like many others, took to social media to cast dispersions on the new-look Top Gear at every opportunity. The big-budget introduction to The Grand Tour making light of the departure from the BBC was an immensely promising start and I should probably be ashamed to admit that it brought a tear to my eye. But alas, GT has yet to revisit those heady heights of that memorable first scene from episode 1.
Now, I suspect I may know what's happened here. With the Grand Tour, Amazon are attempting to further broaden the audience of "old Top Gear" to maximise the viewing figures and, to my mind at least, it simply hasn't quite worked. For me, the acid test is whether my wife will join me in an hour's indulgence of car-related viewing. She would glady watch Hammond, May and Clarkson on Top Gear, but is disinterested in both the new-look Top Gear and Grand Tour, so I'm reduced to sordid late-night viewing after she has fallen asleep. Whereas Top Gear was predominantly a car show where the on-screen chemistry, comedy and gaffes added to the entertainment, The Grand Tour seems to focus on the latter with the former as a token afterthought.
In the interests of balance, new Top Gear doesn't cut it for me either. There are far too many presenters - Eddie Jordan's inane witterings, Chris Evans yelling like an over-enthused announcer at a village fete and Sabine's abrupt persona all detract from my enjoyment. The changes to the lap to include rallycross sections smacks of forced entertainment and the on-screen chemistry (I'm refusing to use that hateful word "banter") is not yet there. However, Rory Reid and Chris Harris punctuate the show with some decent, quality reviews, and have kept me watching. The segment of Reid reviewing the Focus RS hit the mark perfectly - an informative review of an exciting car which the viewers can actually afford (OK, they may have to go without food and neglect to pay the mortgage to meet the monthly payments, but it's a car in the realms of possibility) - and I have subsequently re-watched more times than I'd be comfortable declaring.
Just as James May is critical of cars designed with the intention of lapping the Nurburgring quickly, the Grand Tour feels like a car show which has been designed to appeal to a mass-market audience, with little regard for the car enthusiast. The comic aspect, whereas once it felt spontaneous and free-flowing, now feels scripted and forced, and the content sometimes feels bizarre and irrelevant (a car made out of bones???).
I accept that in today's world, the viewer demands more than back-to-back reviews of the latest offerings from the car world, and a return to the classic format simply wouldn't command the viewing figures Amazon demands. But the core content should, in my opinion, feature reviews of the latest exciting cars released to the market. A particular bugbear of mine is that the Honda Civic Type R features on the lap record board, and James May has posted on DriveTribe of his unlikely approval for the car's divisive aesthetics, and yet it hasn't featured on the show. Now, as a Type R owner, I'll readily admit this is a fairly personal gripe, but I think a five-minute slot of one of the trio hammering this around the Ebola-Ring would have made for some excellent viewing, and would certainly have been preferrable to watching James May attempting to construct a car out of muddy bricks.
Despite all this, next Friday at approximately five minutes past midnight, I will be logging in to Amazon and tuning in to the latest episode. The Grand Tour is still an enjoyable must-watch in my television viewing schedule, but it hasn't quite delivered what we know the trio are capable of.
I would like to see a prominent return to the budget car challenges - giving them each £12k and asking them to return with a JDM classic would set car forums alight (I'm thinking Clarkson in an Evo 8/9, Hammond in a Subaru Impreza Blob STI and May in an R33 Skyline GTR!?). Ditch the Celebrity Brain-Crash feature (it was funny the first three times, but is starting to wear thin), focus Conversation Street more on cars akin to the former News section on Top Gear and reviews/battles between cars that are remotely affordable for the average viewer. I would also like to see a stronger link between the show and DriveTribe, as whereas the show doesn't quite satiate my inner petrolhead, I can indulge my passion here to my heart's content, which has certainly been a highlight.
I want the Grand Tour to succeed - it does not have to be solely a car fanatics' paradise, but it should to my mind be a car show first and foremost.