When we ran a recent poll on our Twitter feed (@classiccarshire) I was surprised to discover just how negatively our followers view Amazon's Grand Tour. I admit that our polling methodology won't be troubling Mori any time soon, but as a quick litmus test on Clarkson, Hammond & May it was instructive.
I did a bit of digging to see why viewers are turned off by the show. Even filtering out the love/hate relationship that many have with Clarkson, there were a few constructive criticisms about the show's scripting, format and certain components that don't work. Amazon don't release viewing figures so we'll probably never really know how well it's doing. But eight episodes in, here's my own take on the show.
1. It carries the weight of expectation surprisingly well
Compare the generally divided view of the show with universal derision that greeted Chris Evans' Top Gear and it gives a better impression of what the three amigos have achieved. They had a lot to live up to and, I think, the show generally delivers. It's worth remembering that much of the old Top Gear felt tired and patchy with some episodes missing and others hitting the mark.
2. The Everyman Outsiders are now on the inside
Top Gear thrived on the sense of three ordinary blokes swimming against the tide and doing what they love regardless. The show's battles with the BBC did much to feed this outsiderism. We even applauded the trio's obvious financial success as an example of how ordinariness can triumph. And then they signed a £160m deal with Amazon. In some subtle way this changes everything - now we're watching a slick subscription-charging juggernaut, not a humble little BBC programme that just happened to go interstellar.
3. It definitely is too scripted
Of course Top Gear was carefully planned and scripted. But bereft of hefty budgets and commercial imperatives it was altogether more relaxed and therefore less obvious. The Grand Tour has the same set ups and banter but it just doesn't ebb and flow in the same way. Clarkson, Hammond & May seem awkward and uncomfortable. I suspect constant change of location isn't helping here - the old studio must have felt like a lovely old coat, comfortable and settling.
4. May is underused
May's shtick is reticence and drollery. But on The Grand Tour his calm relative to Hammond and Clarkson means he's been sidelined and underused during the studio bantering. This is a real shame because he is arguably the best thing about the show - unshowy, insightful, funny and genuinely likeable in a way that the other two just aren't.
5. The studio segments
Top Gear was weakest when it dawdled in the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car segment and The Grand Tour suffers similar problems. Conversation Street is a poor relative of the previously excellent sofa chats (mainly because of the wooden scripting) and the 'dead celebrity' gag is about as funny as a wet weekend in Rhyl. Apparently it's a joke on the BBC's insistence that the show has no celebrities (for legal reasons), but it's boring and weak.
6. The pure car stuff is brilliant
Nobody does car features like Clarkson, Hammond and May. Watch Evans' Top Gear to see how easy it is to miss the mark. They are consistently entertaining, insightful and creative with superb filming.
The original Clarkson Top Gear took years to settle into itself and The Grand Tour will likely be the same. Lets give it a chance to shine.