I admit it, I was never going to hate The Grand Tour.
Like millions of other Top Gear fans, I was sorry to see Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond leave the show – though I readily accept the BBC had little choice but to drop Clarkson – and was sorely disappointed with the lazy, half-arsed effort the broadcaster made to continue show without them.
Slight spoilers for episode one lurk below – if you’ve not seen the show, come back and read this when you have. Experience the fun for yourself.
Knowing the trio as we do, I’d always suspected the show would start with a reference to Clarkson’s axing.
The BBC of course banned any reference to his absence during the ill thought out ‘elephant in the room’ final episode of the trio’s Top Gear era but it was inevitable that at least one sly dig would make its way into their new Amazon venture.
I’d half-expected a sequence in which Clarkson was seen loitering outside a hanger while the other two supposedly filmed the studio scenes for their TG finale and some banter about him too busy eating his steak to make the session.
What we got was even better – a massive trolling of the BBC in which Clarkson was seen leaving a stand-in for the broadcaster’s HQ, handing in his door pass and heading off through the streets of rainy London as radio reports of his dismissal played in the background.
Instantly we knew The Grand Tour would be even ballsier than its predecessor and that far from playing safe and treating the Amazon deal as their final chance, the trio were hellbent on ramping up the piss-taking dial to maximum.
On social media many have talked about having tears in their eyes as Clarkson, now driving along the Californian freeway, suddenly spots Hammond and May in his wing mirrors.
Crying isn’t my thing but that quiet celebration of a friendship they all fervently deny was definitely one of my highlights of the episode as was the scene a few moments later when their collective list of sackings was read out.
Clearly the time for apologies is considered long gone and the trio are now focussed on having fun and entertaining their fans – though it’s often unclear which of those is the intended final result and which is the by-product.
The good news is the new show looks beautiful – the direction on the location films was faultless and the cinematography was just gorgeous – and the trio’s effortless chemistry meant that the whole thing felt familiar and comfortable.
However the show’s tent feels a bit cramped compared to the old hanger and it seemed odd to have them largely sitting down throughout the whole episode. I suspect this only feels ‘wrong’ because it’s new and that once a few episodes have aired and the new way is more familiar I won’t even notice it.
Ahead of broadcast the hosts had endlessly warned that the opening episode was very car heavy, a treat for the petrolhead audience, with none of the Last Of The Summer Wine hijinks that many people tune in for.
A glance through Twitter suggests that the vast majority of fans were happy enough to wait another week for the absurd adventures and were just content to have ‘their’ presenters back.
The difference between the warmth and love which has greeted The Grand Tour stands in stark, brutal contrast to the weeks of mockery and anger that Chris Evans’ Top Gear found itself battling.
The BBC got the show’s name, studio and format but it’s now clearer than ever that Amazon has custody of the two most important elements – its soul and its fanbase.
The Grand Tour’s instant success means Top Gear will never now step out of Clarkson’s shadow.
The Grand Tour will be available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video – including in 4K – from November 18th for anyone with an Amazon Prime subscription or standalone monthly subscription to the Prime Video service.