In Defence of The Grand Tour

Granted, I'm not entirely in love with the first season of Amazon's highly anticipated Clarkson, Hammond, and May vehicle (that's a pun), The Grand Tour, but it needs to breathe (that's a wine reference) somewhat before it starts to shine.

In the latest R&T op/ed from Jack Baruth, the Avoidable Contact scribe rants about the failings he perceives are being perpetrated by The Grand Tour team, and he is right on some accounts. It does feel overly scripted, for the most part, and the best thing about Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May is their repartee en flagrante. We don't quite get to see it just yet, but it's more complicated than just getting the trio back in front of the cameras again.

We need recall that the BBC fired Clarkson for bitch slapping a production assistant. Clarkson walked and so did his fellow presenters. When he was courted by Amazon, show runner Andy Wilman and much of the Top Gear production team followed. The problem isn't that these people don't know how to work together, it's that the book they took 23 series (we call them seasons) over 18 years to write had to be tossed into the fire. You don't think the BBC would just let Clarkson and Co. walk off with the Top Gear formula, did you? Top Gear has been one of the BBC's biggest international golden gooses ever.

Episode #2 from the first series back in 2002. Look at how empty the hanger was!

Production needed to be different or the BBC would sue the hell out of Amazon. So, not unlike trying to get a cruise ship to do a backflip (both impossible and an impressively epic visual metaphor), the well-oiled Top Gear machine, honed over two decades starting with the almost utterly unwatchable first season, was going to have to start mostly from scratch. This is what we're seeing now. They had to do it to learn what was and was not going to work, and they need the crucible of public opinion to craft all new material.

We've also seen how hard it is to replicate Top Gear. The Australian version was cancelled after four years. The Russian version was cancelled half way through the first season. The US version has run for five seasons, but has never drawn significant viewership and is widely derided. There are South Korean, Chinese, and French versions as well, but I can't tell how well they're doing, though the French version posted a record viewership for the first episode.

It's not easy because good television is hard. So, let's give The Grand Tour and Amazon some room to get it right. It's fun to watch already, and the hosts and Andy Wilman will start to dial things in after this season. Like a fine wine, they just need room to breathe.