Friday, November 18th. The day the world was re-introduced to the troublesome trio of Jeremy ‘Jezza’ Clarkson , Richard ‘The Hamster’ Hammond and James ‘Captain Slow’ May as the new Amazon Prime series The Grand Tour became available on the streaming service. This comes over eighteen months after the three presenters left the BBC following a ‘fracas’ and almost six months after Top Gear aired without the three for the first time since 2002. A perfect time, then, to discuss why both shows can co-exist and why this could have been the best thing to happen for all parties involved.
Let us start at the beginning. In March of 2015, the word ‘fracas’ was born. In an altercation between Jeremy Clarkson and a Top Gear producer, supposedly about the lack of steak at a hotel, ended with Clarkson punching the producer, Oisin Tymon. This ended with a full investigation by the BBC and Clarkson’s suspension. He would never again be a Top Gear producer. Despite a petition with over one million signatures delivered to BBC headquarters insisting he be reinstated, they would not stand down. They couldn’t. If they had kept a presenter who punched a producer in the face during a tantrum, I and I hope many others would have held a dim view on the broadcaster. It did not take long after this for Clarkson’s co-presenters and ‘friends’ Hammond and May to announce they would not be renewing their BBC contract. Again, they couldn’t. I had a suspicion that this was all staged however. Imagine it was for a minute and I’ll tell you what everybody gained from it. It is no secret that the BBC has a grudge against presenters that demand a high salary. As a result of this, they keep three large sums that would normally be handed out to the trio’s bank accounts. Clarkson, Hammond and May will get a new start with a much healthier budget that the BBC could have ever provided to make THEIR show. See where I’m going with this? …. but what does Oisin Tymon get from all of this other than a punch in the face? A healthy sum from a quietly orchestrated lawsuit. That’s what! I’ll let you ponder that for a moment.
Pushing that to the side now, if you can, there is also a case that Top Gear was beginning to run out of steam. Even though it was the most successful BBC show in history and, hell it was most watched factual television series globally, something was missing towards the end of its 22 series long Clarkson led run. It was still a good show, don’t get me wrong. It had certainly moved out of the ‘factual’ category and had been deeply set in the ‘entertainment’ category long before. It had to change though. It had to move with the times. A factual car show reviewing the family saloons that Top Gear started out as in the 1970s simply would not attract anything like the numbers that it did at its Clarkson peak. One of the reasons it began to decline, to me anyway, was just how scripted it was and how they carried on like it wasn’t scripted. This was a very executive BBC decision of what kind of show they wanted, I know. To many it was getting better and better as they were getting even more scripted but I would have like a little more ‘car’ content from the world’s leading motoring show.
May 2016 saw Top Gear return to our screens with an all new line up. Chris Evans got the gig to save the BBC’s biggest asset. He failed, miserably. Granted it was a seemingly impossible task to resurrect as the Clarkson fanboys were out in force from day one slating everything about it but Chris Evans brought so much crap into the show that made it impossible to like it. The audience now had an upstairs just like Evans’ TFI Friday and were very false. Fake applause was dubbed over when Evans tried to make a joke. The celebrity guests now interviewed each other on the couch and they played a game of who owns a better car, which was just pointless. On top of this, the test track featured rally excursions to show the celebrity’s driving abilities in an even dimmer light and when wet, purely tested their yachting skills. For no apparent reason Evans also insisted on wearing the exact same hideous outfit for every one of the six shows. Therefore it came as no surprise to hear he ‘stepped down’ from the role after just one season.
This was excellent news however because now Top Gear can be a very good show. Aside from Evans’ lunacy, other parts of the latest Top Gear show were not bad at all. The other people brought in included ‘Friends’ actor Matt Le Blanc who with time will hopefully become more sincere and less ‘actor-ee’ over time, will take command of the ship from the next season being the new face for Top Gear. Other regulars on the show were the newly found Rory Reid and online motoring journalist, and professional race driver Chris Harris. Rory Reid shone as a sensational journalist during his first season. He was found from the public audition process and his highlight was his review of the the Tesla Model X. He also presents his own show afterwards on the BBC red button called Extra Gear which was arguably better than the main show itself. Chris Harris brought with him his unique hands-on approach to reviewing cars and got to play with a Ferrari F12 TdF at a wet French racetrack, a joy to watch. Harris also has his own online series of reviews on TopGear.com called Chris Harris Drives where he continues to do what he did on his Chris Harris on Cars YouTube channel with the cameraman he did them with. German race driver Sabine Schmidt and F1 veteran Eddie Jordan also made appearances in some episodes. My hope is that people give the new Top Gear a chance as I have very high hopes for next year.
Now onto The Grand Tour. Currently available in the UK, US, Germany and Japan it will go global in December. No doubt The Grand Tour will be very similar to the trio when they were on Top Gear, now they simply have the perk of more money to do more things. I like the idea that they now roam the world in a tent. Due to BBC lawyers saying they cannot have a permanent studio, they now bring a tent to a new location every week and make their show. This definitely improves their foreign appeal and now people from all over the world can attend the live recording without travelling to Guildford. While Top Gear can now return slightly to the old days of proper car reviews, the three boys can do what they do best, make ridiculously entertaining television, albeit now in a modern online way. The two shows will of course be somewhat similar in that they are both about cars but they will be done in entirely different ways. This is all great news for the car guy who now has two very competitive car shows at the same time. One will be the in depth look and review of the latest and greatest and the other will be for the more creative side of the brain, testing cars in places they’re really not supposed to be.
I am marveling in that we have these two shows running side by side and hope everyone can appreciate them both for what they are in their own right, rather than drawing a straight up comparison between them. Let me know what your thought are in the comments below.