When the BBC declined to renew Jeremy Clarkson’s contract in the wake of the Top Gear presenter’s well-publicised bout of fisticuffs with a producer, there was huge outcry.
It’s political correctness gone mad, he’s a non-nonsense, tells-it-like-is, straight-talking kind of guy, they said.
When the new version of Top Gear, fronted by Chris Evans, finally surfaced – after rumours of bust-ups and disasters – taking out the bluster and buffoonery, replacing it with dull and dismal, the Clarkson supporters seemed to have been vindicated.
But, on the evidence of The Grand Tour (Amazon Prime, episode one streaming now), they may have to think again.
After an overblown opening, in which a downcast Clarkson, seemingly running away from his problems, left a drizzly Britain before landing in sun-drenched California, to drive a Ford Mustang across the desert to a soundtrack of I Can See Clearly Now, the whole show ground to a halt.
Clarkson, and ex-Top Gear pals Richard Hammond and James May, appeared on a stage – in the middle of the Californian desert – in front of thousands of adoring fans, who must have been under the impression they were there to see Foo Fighters, rather than three, slightly paunchy, middle aged motoring journalists.
They traded insults, showed a montage of what is to come in later episodes and retreated to a venue surrounded by more adoring fans. So far, so Top Gear.
But there they stayed, introducing familiar-looking films of drag races, tyre smoke and double entendres. At no time did they explain why they were in California, why they were embarking on this round-the-world ‘grand tour’, or why Richard Hammond had grown an apologetic beard.
There was an overlong sequence where the three presenters had a ‘row’ with the audience over whose air force was best, and at one point, they introduced celebrity guest Jeremy Renner (the non-superhero one off the Avengers films), only to kill him off in a ‘tragic skydiving accident’, with replacement guests Armie Hammer and Carol Vorderman also ‘dying’.
Unfortunately, the only dying was happening onscreen as Clarkson, Hammond and May ploughed through the same old shtick from Top Gear. The only thing now is that it seems so tired, laboured and dated.
The BBC’s schism with Clarkson and the old Top Gear team could have been a chance for them both to take stock, come up with something new and fresh.
But they all decided to stick with the old formula, and both shows have stalled on the starting line.