Top Gear // The Grand Tour

  • Title: Top Gear // The Grand Tour
  • Country of Origin: United Kingdom
  • Genre: Comedy // Reality Series // Documentary
  • Available on: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix
  • Recommendation by Brian Magnuson

“Right. So, let’s begin, shall we? This is my review of the game show, “The Grand Tour,” I can hear the moderator, Jeremy Clarkson say this, in his veddy British, deeply resonating announcing voice.

“Hold on, now. It’s called Top Gear and it’s not a game show, it’s reality TV,” countered the diminutive well coiffed Richard Hammond.

Throwback hippie James May spoke in his what can only be described as “British nerd” voice, “You’re both cocks and addle-brained. This is purely a documentary show about automobiles.”

As an American, I’ve only recently discovered the three self-described petrol-heads loosely posing as motor journalists. On their new Amazon streaming video program, The Grand Tour, these English mates look like they are having way too much fun driving unlimited numbers of exotic cars and carrying out fiendishly concocted challenges. It’s like three adolescents with unlimited money, time, and driving licenses.  I suppose somebody has to do the heavy lifting, right? The Grand Tour is a game show. But, it is also equal parts documentary and reality TV programming. So, for me, on the strength of watching the Grand Tour on Amazon, I searched for Top Gear, the reality/documentary/game show as well. I found it on Netflix. Both GT and TG are very similar television entertainment in almost every respect.

Their mobile base camp, pictured here in Africa

Their mobile base camp, pictured here in Africa

So, how is it a game show? The show’s producers give the guys some kind of challenge where they may compete with each other viciously or work cooperatively toward some unusual and satisfying end. For example, in one show they expounded on the virtues and history of the dune buggy as it was invented in California from a modified Volkswagen Beetle. In every show, their discussions break down into some kind of argument. This is when the producers step in with a directive. In this particular case, each one is given an allowance to spend on their vehicle for the challenge. The competitions generally begin like this: to get or build or modify their own “sand buggy” as the Brits call these vehicles. There are very few actual rules where the procurement of their car choice is concerned. The petrol heads generally get very different conveyances. Then the real challenge was revealed (there’s always one challenge hidden within another): an African endurance rally or race or off road endurance. I don’t know the difference but, probably will after binge watching the show.

Anyway, here is how the reality and documentary characteristics of the show comes in. Jeremy, James, and Richard’s challenge was to drive from the southern part of Namibia, Africa to a beach in the northern part of this desert country. They would use the buggies that they had built to their own specifications. Both programs have high production values. You can tell that the show has very high production values from the multitude of camera shots used throughout to show the sweeping physical geography of whatever region they happen to be in. Namibia is gorgeous in its desolation. The greenest part of the country is its western coast along the Atlantic ocean. And the boys follow the coast for quite a ways until they are forced to abandon it for the desert inland. All along the way they poke fun at each other, play practical jokes and describe their circumstances in a running lucid and eloquent commentary to the viewers. Did I mention their vehicles had to fly?

Top Gear and The Grand Tour are not completely documentary/game type shows because back in Britain the guys push exotic cars to their limits around a dedicated track that doubles as an airfield. Did I mention they also have guest stars? Most are probably better known in England than in other parts of the world. In one show (Top Gear) the guest drives a modestly priced car around the track for their best time. In another show (The Grand Tour) the guest “dies” in some horrible, yet family friendly way. They are both running gags that never fail to entertain.

So, in summary, this show is reviewed on Backyard Global because of the immersive feel you get when the three Brits drive various vehicles through parts of the world you may never have visited. This is interesting because going about your daily business is part of most people’s everyday lives. You don’t think much about the scenery around you because you are so used to it. While watching TG or GT you can’t help finding similarities and differences of the various region’s human geography and physical geography. Being in the car with those guys you see their mundane scenery, too. But, it is different than ours and fascinating, too. All the glorious scenery where the boys find superlative driving roads on which to unleash their motor vehicles is simply, in a word, brilliant!

Backyard Global 5 out of 5 Globes for cultural immersion.