By on November 16, 2017

The Grand Tour
I’ve said before that automotive television is frequently terrible. Cars don’t have a lot of on-screen charisma without someone inside them, meaning most automotive presenters are forced into awkward acting attempts to “add drama,” despite not being actors.

The exception are shows that don’t rely on gimmicks and allow endearing hosts to be themselves. Top Gear has been a prime example of this since the mid-2000s, improved further by having presenters that act believably in unbelievable ways.

However, when the team that originally made it great left to create The Grand Tour, it wandered dangerously close to becoming an unintentional parody of the old show. Thankfully, most of the past month has been littered with news proving they’re shying away from hokey antics for more substantive programming. 

Granted, much of what Amazon’s The Grand Tour did with the first season served to intentionally distance itself from the BBC show that Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May recently abandoned — or were fired from, in Clarkson’s case. Bringing on high-profile celebrity guests was a staple on Top Gear, as was the Stig’s hot laps around the show’s famous test track. Despite having Andy Wilman — the man who helped come up with those concepts — as the producer on Tour, the program didn’t want to run into any unnecessary legal trouble with British Broadcasting.

The final result was the implementation of things like Celebrity Brain Crash, a segment where a celebrity guest is killed in some elaborate manner before being able to come on the show, and stock car driver Mike Skinner as the boorish American (aimed at replacing the mythical and silent Stig).

Skinner announced he was out of the show earlier this month — saying his character was out for the show’s second season and wishing the team luck. “My character wasn’t developed as I was told,” he explained via Twitter.

That’s understandable. Nothing against Mike, but the writers pigeonholed him into a difficult position with nowhere to go. “The American” was about as one-dimensional as a character could be and didn’t play particularly well in the United States, for reasons that should be blindingly obvious. However, his isn’t the only reoccurring segment on the chopping block.

Youtube notified me that The Grand Tour had posted another video this morning and, while watching it with my coffee, Clarkson had a fake phone call with producers telling him to get rid of Celebrity Brain Crash. Apparently aware that the bit felt forced, it’s also being removed for something that looks to be far more satisfying — famous people attempting to drive a cut-in-half Alfa Romeo.


I have no doubt that the production team at Tour read every single comment made about the first season and took notes. The online consensus was that both the American and Brain Crash were cringe-worthy portions of the program. While I wasn’t quite so down on either, I felt they’d have been a fantastic way to poke fun at Top Gear for episode one — then disappear for subsequent ventures.

May, Hammond, and Clarkson are already thoroughly prepared to engage in clownish antics and do best as fish out out water. That’s what makes the pre-recorded segments so much better than the live bits. The trio is just allowed to go mental in an uncontrolled environment, with occasionally contrived jokes that were clearly written weeks prior and don’t always work. We know they’re better than that because we’ve seen it with our own eyes before.

There’s also nothing particularly funny about tossing in more zany characters when the core group has that pretty well covered — and killing an A-list celebrity loses its impact when you’ve seen it happen four times already. Frankly, I’m glad to see those segments go out window. While it faltered a bit in its first season, The Grand Tour is enjoyable car-centric television and will only be made better by trimming the fat.

[Image: Amazon]

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18 Comments on “Cutting the Crap: The Grand Tour Loses Dead Weight Segments for Season Two...”

  • avatar

    “famous people attempting to drive an cut-in-half Alfa Romeo”
    Nein! Zat is A! No AN!

    Grammar rules aside, I hope they don’t drag on segments like they did in the first season. Their beach buggy segment in particular was a bore.

    I honestly don’t watch much of GT, or TG, or TG America. Too many Ferrari/Porsche ads and not enough junker cars.

  • avatar

    This is a similar arc to what happened when Clarkson, Hammond and that other guy that only lasted one season did when they rebooted Top Gear. Things shifted around a lot in the first four or five seasons. IIRC, May didn’t join them until season 2.

    • 0 avatar

      Jason Dawe I think he was called.

      • 0 avatar

        His job was to keep up on actual pricing, discounts and specials while Clarkson and Hammond screwed around.

        Someone dumped a bunch of Top Gears from the 80s and 90s on YouTube lately and they are a lot like Motor Week with a bigger budget and more access to corporate/government/research agencies for their articles. There’s a particularly good episode devoted to Poland’s car industry from 1983 since FSOs were being exported to the UK to get Poland some hard cash.

  • avatar

    Iron Resurrection is the only car based TV show I watch these days.
    No made up drama like: will it fit, will it start, will we finish on time crap.

  • avatar

    This is definite improvement. Those two segments were simply awful and I applaud them for making “halftime adjustments.”

    Now if they’d let them ad-lib more, and go off of scripted dialogue less…

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    I’m a little less benevolent. The first season of Grand Tour was a parade of mediocrity with a few high points but even more tragically low points. There was very little original or inventive about it.

    Imagine an aging band going on tour, but they don’t own the songs that made them famous so they hastily try to rewrite them just enough to avoid copyright infringement.

    Celebrity brain crash was amusing for the first two episodes, until you knew it was going to be a recurring bit. Gold Earring electrocuting itself was pretty good, though.

    I hope they replace Skinner with another driver, though, one that isn’t expected to do a bad comedy bit. The highlight of the show for me was watching a pro sling a car around a track with the intent of setting a fast time rather than just obliterating the rear tires for dramatic effect the way Clarkson and Hammond do on their reviews.

  • avatar

    I’m in favor of skipping the celebrity parts as a regular feature. That was always the weakest part of Top Gear before.

  • avatar

    Oh, Celebrity Brain Crash. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

  • avatar

    Too me it sounds like they got their point across with Celebrity brain crash. It was pretty stupid to suggest that even an interview segment with a celebrity is a proprietary concept owned by the BBC when just about every talk show follows this concept. It sounds like they’ll actually be able to have celebrities on now. If they didn’t keep the gag up, it likely wouldn’t have been resolved.

  • avatar

    I enjoyed Top Gear (even the much-hated American Top Gear became somewhat enjoyable once the presenters got their chemistry right), but I knew from the start that it was an entertainment show and not serious automotive journalism.

    The Grand Tour series is, to me, just an embarrassment. I watched the first three episodes and then stopped because I thought it was awful. RIP, Top Gear.

    • 0 avatar

      Serious automotive journalism seldom translates well to TV. Motorweek with John Davis is about the only good example I can think of and that’s more or less a more focused Consumer Reports.

  • avatar

    Glad to hear that those two segments have gone the way of the dodo. Brain Crash was funny…the first time. Nice poke at TG, but then it should have been buried and forgotten. While I understand the desire to have cars complete a hot lap for bragging rights, the American just didn’t hit on the same cylinders as the Stig. Here’s hoping the boys get it right for Season 2.

  • avatar

    The last few seasons of Top Gear with this crew were self-indulgent, tiresome, wasteful, ridiculous, silly crap for the most part. The Grand Tour continued that in spades. Perhaps it’ time for them and Wilman to take a long vacation to a Caribbean island and rethink what they are doing.

  • avatar

    I’m good with this. Both segments had me scratching my head after a show or two. As in ‘why are you still doing this, you’ve made yer f’n point?’ I also see that they haven’t glossed over the Hamster’s contretemps with a certain e-vehicle. To me their best bits are when they each get a vehicle, of some sort, and go ‘road trip’!!!

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