Ladies and gentlemen, our long wait is over. The first episode of The Grand Tour—the new motoring show from Messrs. Clarkson, Hammond, and May—arrived on Amazon Prime today (November 18). I'm here to tell you the truth: it. is. AMAZING.
As you will no doubt remember, the Top Gear trio left the BBC following Clarkson's late night loss-of-temper with one of the show's producers. The BBC drafted in a new cast for the long-running programme, led by Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc, but the re-helmed Top Gear went down like a lead balloon with audiences and Chris Evans fell on his sword as a result. Meanwhile, buoyed with a budget that's believed to top $5.5 million an episode, Clarkson et al. went to work on what may be seen as their magnum opus.
Freed from the shackles that are a necessary component of the UK's public service broadcaster, the boys have been left to run wild, and it appears they have delivered. As Clarkson puts it, "It's very unlikely I'm going to be fired now, because we're on the Internet. Which means I could pleasure a horse..."
The first episode begins in a rainy London as Jeremy Clarkson emerges from an office building. With news of his departure from the BBC playing in the background, he heads to Heathrow Airport for pastures new. As one might expect from the show's name, the three year, 36-episode run will tour the world, coming to us each week from a different spot on the globe. First stop: Los Angeles.
Our producer-punching hero straps himself into a Galpin Rocket (based on the Ford Mustang) and heads out into the high desert, joined along the way by James May and Richard Hammond, each driving their own Mustang variant. Soon they are joined on a dry lake bed by an armada of vehicles from 1930s touring cars to Mad Max-style creations, rooster tails of dust filling the sky. The destination is a festival called Burning Van, where they're greeted by the Hothouse Flowers playing live. An introduction follows with plenty of self-referential humor from the trio regarding various outlets they've been fired from in the past.
The format of the show hews closely to that which made Top Gear such a success. There's a studio—this time it's a tent rather than a hangar—and an audience, from where the action cuts away at regular intervals to show us the features.
"Contrary to what people say, this is actually a car show."
Episode 1's title is "The Holy Trinity," something most petrolheads will instantly recognize as a reference to the hybrid hypercars from Ferrari, McLaren, and Porsche. After much trying—and after the production runs of all three were long since sold out—The Grand Tour managed to assemble a Porsche 918 Spyder, McLaren P1, and Ferrari LaFerrari together for a track test. Each of the presenters has their favorite, and there's plenty of teasing each other regarding which will be the eventual victor. The stakes are more than just pride however; Clarkson, championing the P1, bets Hammond and May his will be the fastest. The penalty for losing? They get to demolish his house.
We also meet the show's new test track—the Eboladrome—located outside Swindon in the UK. There's also a new tame racing driver. Unlike the Stig, Mike Skinner (who runs in NASCAR) is allowed to talk, and he's an opinionated American who thinks anything that isn't a V8 is "communism." The Eboladrome is a scary looking thing, nicely described as making "Imola [the Italian race track which claimed the life of Ayrton Senna] look like a duvet."
One segment that didn't translate over from the BBC is the celebrity interview. At first it looks like we'll be subjected to a few minutes of someone promoting their latest film or book, but a series of tragedies results in the deaths of Jeremy Renner, Armie Hammer, and Carol Vorderman.
Now, I'm a bit of a curmudgeon and will be the first to tell you that the last few seasons of pre-Evans Top Gear felt increasingly stale. Yet The Grand Tour melted my cold, black heart. The production values are extraordinary. Director of Photography Ben Joiner has excelled himself, and if you're lucky enough to have a television capable of 4K and HDR you will be in for a treat. While I don't have access to such a device, my colleague Sam Machkovech does. He was so impressed with the experience he e-mailed me late last night—sadly Sam's three-word email is almost unprintable, but the first word was "....holy." I'll let you fill in the blanks.
Unlike Netflix or Hulu, Amazon Prime doesn't want us binge watching, so we have to wait another week for the next installment. It is going to be a long seven days.
This post originated on Ars Technica
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