By on December 20, 2021

The Grand Tour returned this past Friday with the fourth special of its fourth season, entitled “Carnage a Trois.” The French-themed episode follows “Lochdown” of August 2021, “A Massive Hunt” from December last year, and “Seamen” from December 2019. “Seamen” was the first installment of The Grand Tour’s new format where the tent, audience, track, and stupid time-wasting went by the wayside in favor of a specials-only format with grand adventures and less choppy segmented content. How does “Carnage a Trois” fare in that mold? Pas bon.

Before you read any further, be advised this article contains spoilers of the episode. You’ve been warned!

Like “Lochdown,” the French installment of The Grand Tour starts with a simple question the trio of presenters intend to answer over the next hour and five-ish minutes. This time the inquiry is “What is the matter with the French?” Cue the mimes and baguettes, because you’re in for a lot of very stereotypical jokes about France and French people, none of which will be new or funny to you if you’re over the age of 15. Viewers see some shots of James and Richard pretending to build a catapult for no reason in particular, and Clarkson talks about unusual French laws that have nothing to do with cars.

The car portion of the light entertainment hour starts out promising enough, as the presenters show up with the voitures they’ve purchased. Clarkson selects a Citroën CX Safari (wagon), just like he did on the old Top Gear episode (S15, E4) where he turned one into a motorhome. Hammond goes sporty and selects the three-seater Matra Murena, useful for the French man who has a wife and a mistress. May goes for a Renault Avantime that’s the exact same color as the one Top Gear turned into a track car (S12, E3). With three interesting French cars selected, the hosts proceed to give zero detail about the age, mileage, price, or condition of their vehicles. The trio doesn’t look or comment on one another’s choices at all, in fact. It all feels very rushed.

We head straight into the second segment, a brief history of a handful of French automobiles highlighting quirky and backward designs. Interesting here is something called the Helicar, a 1930s-looking design driven by a front-mounted propeller. Hammond drives it, as the other two presenters move on to quirky Renaults and the 2CV. A 2CV is destroyed by being dropped from a helicopter, because that’s a thing to do. At around the 15-minute mark, hopes are high for more interesting information on French cars. The Helicar was very obscure and very interesting.

But instead, it’s on to more stereotypes about how the French have a general disregard for their cars’ intended use, cargo capacity, how to park, how to be practical, and how to drive. It’s a terrible segment that’s light on entertainment, high on senseless car damage, and that’s it.

“Looking after a car is disgusting [in France],” declares Clarkson. Ready for some offensive pretend French accents?

Moving on, there’s an off-road challenge: Three French family cars asked to go much further off the pavement than they were designed to. Clarkson has a very charming Citroën Berlingo, Hammond is in the Renault Scenic he banged up in the prior segment, and May’s driving the same Peugeot 407 he just broke by slamming a dishwasher into the trunk. French people don’t wash their cars by the way, but they did invent rallying. The off-roading segment sees all three cars entirely destroyed, flipped over intentionally or similar, and goes on a while.

At the 28-minute mark, the hosts return to the French cars they purchased and highlight interesting and quirky features. It would’ve been better to hear the rationales and interesting nature of the cars at first sight, but we’re stretching our material as thin as possible this episode. After a brief driving segment of under two minutes, it’s back to the discussion of French laws (this time with regard to driving, at least). French people don’t use roundabouts properly, by the way. There’s a convenient man standing at the roundabout  as Hammond blocks traffic and shouts obscenities at him. French people like baguettes and eat large sandwiches, you know.

The team heads to the familiar Millbrook Proving Ground and its Belgian pavers to show how the old CX is much softer in its suspension setup than a newer BMW 5-Series wagon. Said 5-Series is destroyed because it’s too rough to defuse a bomb in the cargo area, or whatever. French people don’t like government intervention, and they eat a lot of cheese.

Next up is a pretend rally race of some hot French hatchbacks. Cars are decorated in the Top Gear tradition with fake sponsored liveries. When doors are open the sponsors say Arse Biscuits or Le Balls, and other mature humor for adult people. All the hosts choose a hatchback but it doesn’t really matter which, because the race immediately ends for a lunch break of snails and wine. At 47 minutes in, one begins to wonder if this episode will make any points at all. The race continues after lunch but is stopped again because of a workers’ strike at the track. Fun! Eight minutes later the race is over, and the Citroën Saxo won it, driven by the show’s racing driver, Abbie Eaton.

The tone changes for the penultimate segment of the show, as Clarkson and Hammond explore the elegance and excellence of the Citroën SM. The segment is beautifully filmed and scored, and our hosts convey actual information about an interesting car. They declare the SM the best French car of all time. It might break down a lot, but it’s so stunning to look at it doesn’t matter.

The conclusion is a quick one and comes suddenly. Despite all the automotive quirks and cultural characteristics, there’s not a lot wrong with the French. That might’ve been a nice place to end, but there are nine more minutes to fill. Time to destroy a Citroën C3 Pluriel because it has an annoying roof arrangement. Enter catapult and the White Cliffs of Dover. The C3 is catapulted over the English Channel and lands on a house in France. What of the host’s three cars? No idea, they’re not shown again.

“Carnage a Trois” is not quite as bad as “A Massive Hunt,” but it comes close. For a special episode of a show that releases only a handful of episodes a year, there wasn’t much to recommend it. It was sort of like the history of Peugeot segment from Top Gear (S22, E5). But where that piece went on for eight minutes, this had nine times longer to fill. Without an adventure to go on, it was more like a Grand Tour episode from prior seasons. One loose narrative with different clips here and there. Beautifully filmed, as always.

But that segmentation format was what the show was supposed to leave behind. In exchange for dropping from 12 or 14 episodes a year to two, adventure and film-like content was promised. That didn’t happen here. And I’m not ignoring the masked COVID elephant in the room: Old Top Gear made plenty of great episodes (also an hour-long) within the confines of Great Britain. The majority of this special was incredibly boring.

Sort of leaves me thinking the trio is struggling for content. If there’s no adventure left and the rarely-released specials consist of strung-together segments, we’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel. For their part, the hosts have proclaimed it’s a new type of special. May said, “It’s the first time we’ve done a special like that ever, not going from one place to another place: We’re simply driving around in order to investigate the subject. We might have stumbled across a fantastic original idea without us realising it!”

So they made a special that’s an all-original new idea for a special because it’s in the format of how their show (and Top Gear before it) used to be. Brilliant.

[Images: Amazon]

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45 Comments on “The Grand Tour’s “Carnage a Trois” Episode Falls Largely Flat...”


  • avatar
    jmo

    Hum…I thought the latest one was a big improvement. I got the feeling that they’ve hired some new people and decided to return to the formula that worked.

    I also think Clarkson getting himself fired really pissed of James and Hammond and the tension disrupted the chemistry that made the show work. I think with time all has been (mostly) forgiven and the show has improved as a result.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Stopped watching this show a LONG time ago, and this review reminds me of why. If I want to watch sophomoric “France sucks” stuff, I’ll stuck with Monty Python, which is actually funny.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      This might be Peak TTAC right here. Corey can poo-poo everything, FreedMike can show up and opine, and we’re all done. No one else needed.

      (Not sure how this will generate income for TTAC’s parent company, but hey we tried, right?)

      • 0 avatar

        The Seamen episode was just fine, as was Lochdown!

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Wow, ToolGuy, I had no idea that the girl I dumped over the phone back in 1986 was your big sister Lisa. But to set the story straight, she was screwing around on me, so she had the over-the-phone dump coming. I’m sure she didn’t mention that, but it’s true. Sorry if you’re still feeling raw about it, in any case.

        (Not sure how else to explain the shade you’re throwing here…help me out?)

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          @FreedMike, this is the exactly the level of argumentation which will make the site great again.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @toolguy:

            I’ve been commenting here for about 11 years now. I’ve contributed any number of articles over the years as well. I think I’ve done my bit for Queen and country…unpaid, I might add.

            If you don’t like the direction the site’s heading, then I don’t know what to say other than this: perhaps you should contribute some of your own work. The site does accept contributions.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            Yeah I emailed Mr. Healey three years ago about that.

            But this is not about the articles you publish. It’s about your comments – they aren’t great nowadays.

            [More specifically: Garbage like your ‘comment’? to me above has a definite chilling effect on the willingness of other people to share their opinions – which directly affects site traffic and revenue.]

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            OK, so I said I don’t watch the show anymore because it’s not funny, and the France-bashing is silly. You really think that makes other people less likely to comment?

            I’m sorry, I don’t see the issue.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            Reading comprehension, sir. Review carefully. (Was that you at 12:17PM or someone else?)

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            OK, I’ll try not to use sarcasm towards you in the future. Thanks for the input.

            But you’re riding me and Corey awfully hard here, and if you’re not feelin’ great about my sarcasm, perhaps you should check yours as well. Just sayin’.

  • avatar
    ajla

    youtu.be/rJBmKQpZ02k

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Comparing their travel episodes/specials, Survival of the Fattest in Mongolia is still the gold standard of TGT episodes. Seaman was different and I thought above average. A Massive Hunt was one of the worst (way too scripted to be enjoyable, although I really want to drive on that over the sea road that was being built.) Lochdown had some of the TG charm, so I’ll say average. Carnage a Trois was also mid-pack. I like to see the old Top Gear random destruction, although doing that to a 2CV was not cool…

    The stereotypes are a bit tired, but there is that Anglo v. France rivalry that ranks up there with Red Sox/Yankees, Xavier/UC, and Tom Brady/everyone else on the planet. And who wouldn’t want a trebuchet in their back yard? My neighbor (in the city) has chickens. The fun that could be had…

    And hopefully they start travelling again. Part of the fun of the show is them in new locations and the amazing production values. I guess they were doing a north of the Arctic Circle episode when the lockdowns started and they had to abandon it. Hopefully they can bring it back in 2022 because the way north in Canada on the ice pack episode was pretty funny.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    When was Classic Top Gear or The Grand Tour ever really about vehicles? Clarkson had been on the earlier edition of Top Gear which was about cars and realized that it appealed to a rather limited audience.

    Classic Top Gear used vehicles as a basis to create a show. Much like the Mary Tyler Moore Show was set in a newsroom but was not about a newsroom. Many other examples exist.

    They may be past their prime but are still more intelligent and engaging and entertaining than 90% of those on the telly or in movies. Much like listening to/watching an older Tony Bennett was still preferable to over 90% of other singers.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “still more intelligent and engaging and entertaining than 90% of those on the telly or in movies.”

      “Cars are decorated in the Top Gear tradition with fake sponsored liveries. *When doors are open the sponsors say Arse Biscuits or Le Balls*”

      If “Le Balls” is in the top 10% of modern humor then I’d hate to think what the lowest 10% looks like.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        “Jacka*s,” maybe? But I think what doesn’t work for me vis a vis “Grand Tour” is that it’s basically a highbrow show with a huge production budget and sophomoric humor. It’s like “The Expanse” doing a “Mars fart jokes” episode.

        I mean, France-bashing? Really? That went out 15 years ago with Freedom Fries and that kind of blather. They can do better.

        (And the air horn golf “Jacka*s” bit gets me every time…at least that show’s unapologetically childish.)

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          @Mike, you have to look at it through the eyes of the English, not the American point of view. Ragging on the French, just like potty humour has no law of diminishing returns in England.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Oh, I get it, but this would be largely lost on an American audience.

          • 0 avatar

            The show is no longer a UK exclusive BBC program, and surely they should be cognizant of that.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            @Corey: Classic Top Gear was sold internationally for most of its existence. Was reported to be the most watched program on the planet. Yet they still had multiple segments devoted to British ‘exceptionalism’, referencing WWII, etc.

            The population of many other nations understand and get these references. Unfortunately Americans largely seem lacking in knowledge of international affairs, other nations, etc. Which is perhaps why we sometimes see American channels/networks showing subtitles when people from other nations are speaking English (including people from the UK).

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “Unfortunately Americans largely seem lacking in knowledge of international affairs”

            Again, we are talking about things like “Arse Biscuits & Le Balls”, “the French like cheese too much”, “the French are dirty”, and “the French drink wine for breakfast”.

            These things aren’t going over my head, I just don’t find it particularly funny. It’s the same stereotypes I’ve heard for 30 years with some 7th grade jokes thrown. Maybe this stuff is still hilarious to everyone in Yorkshire but I reject the idea that it’s some kind of sophisticated, global humor just because it is being delivered with an English accent.

  • avatar
    Eaststand

    Well trebuchet is a french word, it wasnt a catapult, so there was a very good reason.

    And in England, we hate the french, and they hate us, its the way its always been, so as an Englishman, laughing at the frogs is always welcome.

    Great episode, to be honest, seems to be back tothe same cheesy silly humour that made top gear famous in the first place.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      It was fine, you either like this new format or not. You get a few LOLs, cars gets trashed and/or blown up, they race then talk about food and wine. They point out some odd things about weird cars, stuff they hate and love. Its sort of predicable, but I still enjoyed watching it. I already pay for Prime so its doesn’t cost me anything. Car Trek on YouTube has copied the TGT format and pulls it off almost as well with a smaller budget.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    I thought it was a great episode with quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. A big improvement over previous GT episodes.

  • avatar
    MrIcky

    Appreciating the reality that they can’t travel around like they used to at the moment, they did good things with it. And I really enjoyed the race, particularly the french intern. I was entertained.

  • avatar
    ctjordan33

    Abbie Eaton, The Grand Tour’s resident driver, won the race in the Saxo, not a French employee. She recently broke two vertebrae in a race in Texas so I’m hoping she’ll have recovered by the time they film another special.

  • avatar
    Kingsoup

    It was pretty bad, a few good parts though. I own the very same BMW E61 Wagon as they blew up (amazon has a picture of it exploding on every static picture you see while navigating grand tour stuff, they’re pretty good cars) Seemed pretty wasteful? Looked in pretty good shape. Trashing and smashing a bunch of decent looking French cars, I don’t get it? Fast and Furious style destruction to please the masses? I can’t tell if they love the French or really are jealous of their policies? (no emailstexting on weekends) Made me really want to visit France, sounds like a pretty cool place. Do people who really love cars enjoy smashing things to pieces? I doubt it, no matter how many millions Amazon pays them.

  • avatar
    renewingmind

    The Grand Tour isn’t as good as peak top gear, this is obvious. But it’s still enjoyable to watch, at least for me and many others. Where I agree with this article is that they really didn’t do much with the three cars they chose at the beginning. It felt like a thread that got dropped. Far from perfect, it was still a delightful hour that didn’t focus on politics and how much the left hates the right and vice versa. The best Grand Tour is still the episode about the Lancia rally championship.

  • avatar
    Matt Posky

    I’ve been on the hunt for some new car shows lately and it’s been a rough road. While I still love “the lads,” their formula has gotten a little stale and these specials have indeed been hit or miss. The good ones seem to have some kind of focus, whereas the others are just an excuse to screw around on film for an hour.

    Clarkson’s farm ended up being quite good because he seemed to have a vested interest in the subject and those goofy old tropes ended up working better when surrounded by genuine information and the occasional bout of real emotion. May’s tinkering show was also great (relaxing) but the cooking programs leave a lot to be desired. I watched him make a ramen sandwich over the weekend and realized it was part of series where he puts together the kind of meals a stoned teenager would make using whatever garbage is lying around. I think they’re all just getting old and/or spreading themselves too thin between the numerous Amazon shows, Drive/Food/Whatever Tribe stuff, and other commitments.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Meanwhile the current Top Gear trucks along, and while nothing special, it’s quite enjoyable, pared down to an exotic car plus something for the three presenters to do, and I’m enjoying it. A combination of Top Gear and Wheeler Dealers makes for an enjoyable Tuesday or Wednesday evening for me, courtesy of the DVR. Oh yeah, Wheeler Dealers is much more interesting now that they’re back in England.

  • avatar
    Manic

    Well it was episode they had to make, per Clarkson’s the Sunday Times column, of which I copy a tiny part here:
    “Television needs feeding constantly. And in the darkest days of the pandemic, when everyone was at home gorging on box sets, the whole industry became like a puppy that had somehow been crossed with a T. rex. Its appetite for new stuff became voracious. As a result, the people who make the actual shows were ordered by the bosses to come out from under their kitchen tables and go into the world to make literally anything. GT was in a similar pickle. Just because we couldn’t do any actual grand touring was no excuse. The viewing audience was stuck at home starved of things to watch, so we had to get out there and make something. Foreign travel simply wasn’t going to be possible. Our budgets are generous, but we can’t keep a crew of 50 in a hotel for ten days when they’re not producing anything. Which meant we had to film in the UK. I didn’t know back then that when the programme finally came out we’d be in a full-scale diplomatic bust-up with Johnny Frog over scallops and submarines and migrants. The actual reason for deciding to have a look at the French is that in all my motoring life I’ve never had anything made in France. Neither has Hammond. And neither had May until he recently bought some kind of Alpine..

  • avatar
    Kenharvey

    I think it has become fashionable in Britain (especially among millenials to dislike anything connected to Clarkson. I’m left wondering if some of this negativity might be due to his dislike of Lewis Hamilton. I found the show entertaing. I think there could be something to my premise considering recent developments.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I think Clarkson dislikes everyone who’s not Clarkson.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Levi’s jeans were rejected by much of the younger generation in the UK due to their being associated with Clarkson. His jeans and jacket attire being equated to the ‘full Cleveland’ look of the 1980’s.

      For Canadians and hockey fans, Clarkson can be compared to Don Cherry regarding his polarizing impact/popularity.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    I’m not sure how folks can tell that the show has gotten worse. I watched some early episodes, and it wasn’t entertaining back then either.

  • avatar
    MelanieAnn

    I thought it was terrible. Total waste of time. Honestly, it might be time for them to just hang this threesome up. They don’t seem to have the chemistry any more.

  • avatar
    AK

    I gave up on the grand tour after about 2 episodes in their first season. That said, I enjoyed the James May in Japan series and Clarkson’s farm.

    I think when it comes to cars, they’ve truly exhausted every angle but they’re still good compelling TV people.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    It’s not an age thing…. these guys just aren’t that compelling. The shtick’s worn thin and unlike Madonna, they don’t know how to blaze a new trail.

    It’s like listening to the same chords from your favorite songs. Not the whole song…. just the famous chords. Or like watching a show with a laugh track.

    That’s what these guys have been for a while.

  • avatar
    deenybean21

    Don’t mean to be rude, but there wasn’t a convenient Brit’ at the roundabout in Paris. They never left Britain for this episode.

    Anyway, I thought it was slightly better Lochdown, but still not nearly as fun or as interesting as previous adventures. And what was all that business of James hiding under a tablecloth? James used to be my favourite of the trio, but after watching the way he interacts with his crew and director on Oh Cook! and Our Man In… I’ve come to the conclusion he can be quite unpleasant.

    • 0 avatar

      Duhhhh I should have realized that. Corrected!

      The tablecloth thing was a reference to a (rare?) French cuisine that is eating a whole baby bird. The birds are kept in a dark box so they think it’s night time and gorge themselves on food. Then they’re lightly killed and… there’s your meal. I don’t know the name of it.

    • 0 avatar
      JD Jones

      Where did you see James being rude? I haven’t watched wither of his new shows yet but I can’t imagine him being an unpleasant person to be around.

  • avatar
    boxermojo

    I always enjoy watching Clarkson going on about “what is the matter with the French,” particularly when discussing cars, when his own country basically has no domestic auto industry, having lost it to Germany and all their former colonial subjects after decades of building nothing but increasingly boring, unreliable cars. It seems odd to be so smug about French cars when your own industry died with the flatulent whimper of the Rover 75 and Reliant.

    They do truly love picking on mass-market Renaults, Citroëns, and Peugeots, but never seem to put everyday British cars through the same paces…because there aren’t any mass-market British cars, unless you want to count that little BMW that looks sort of like a MINI. Funny thing, that.

    Meanwhile, I climbed into my “bloody minded” thirty-seven-year-old Citroën 2CV last month and drove without incident from Baltimore to Savannah and back and with a smile on my face the whole time. Guess I’ll have to go on with Clarkson wondering what’s the matter with me.

    Whatever will I do?

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