It may be later than expected, but the second season of The Grand Tour featuring the old Top Gear trio of Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond has finally launched on Amazon Prime. Although this episode of Season 2 was never intended to be its premiere, it shows signs of significant growth from last year’s season, despite a couple near death experiences during production.
Why the misplaced episode you ask? Thanks to Richard Hammond’s leg getting smashed up in the now very famous accident of the Croatian made Rimac Concept_One, the team had no choice since the remaining episodes in the season will showcase the haggard leg.
Seeing an episode out of order is a rare opportunity to take a glimpse into an Executive Producer’s war plan. Even though Andy Wilman still holds that title for The Grand Tour, I’ll lump Jeremy Clarkson in with him as well; both are childhood friends keen on making this new series out perform their previous show. As a producer, you realize you have stronger episodes than others.
Since your overall goal is to show growth over the season, you strategically place episodes in an order that will not only provide a good viewing experience, but you also place weaker episodes around dates where you can find an excuse for poor ratings. That last bit isn’t entirely a joke. This episode, before the Rimac accident, was likely planned to air somewhere in the middle of the season. It wasn't strong enough to be a season opener... unless one of the hosts drove a multi-million dollar all-electric hypercar straight off a Swiss mountain. I guess that’s why Amazon calls The Grand Tour unscripted.
Despite how Amazon defines the show, The Grand Tour is very much scripted–minus the accidents. I don’t blame the series producers for scripting a lot of the activities, when in reality I know its more of an outline that the guys fill in with their own words than a rigid script. When you have Amazon buying multiple episodes at a premium price, you need some type of oversight. But as it turns out, that may not be entirely true. According to Jeremy Clarkson, this season The Grand Tour will feature an entire episode filmed in Croatia that is absolutely unscripted.
That news dropped at the New York premiere for the season, where Road & Track’s very own Travis Okulski interviewed Clarkson, Hammond, and May in front of a 500 person audience before the screening. When Clarkson disclosed an episode has been shot without a script, the crowd erupted in applause. This is why I’m going to watch the whole season of The Grand Tour: they’re listening. It shows how a new media company like Amazon can sidestep old government backed broadcasting entities when creating original programming and go against traditional methods of production. It's the sort of move that needs to be made in an age where social media allows audiences and decision makers to directly interact.
The overly scripted nature of later Top Gear episodes and last season of The Grand Tour has been a frequent complaint for years, so this unscripted episode is a welcome surprise. What else has the team of W. Chump and Sons done with season two that indicates they're listening to the audience? Here's what the team improved:
Gone is the traveling circus tent studio. From now on, the studio tent will remain in the UK, apparently very near Jeremy’s country house. This cuts down on travel costs and production difficulties, not to mention the fatigue to the crew and hosts traveling around the world to shoot segment intros. A wise move as the traveling tent didn’t add much value to the show in the previous season, with the exception of South Africa where they interacted with local car culture. But I digress.
Also gone is the American–aka NASCAR driver Mike Skinner–the Stig-like racing driver who set lap times after tests. The first episode of the new season doesn't have a test of a new car, so we'll have to wait to see who, or what, will replace him.
Furthermore, Celebrity Brain Crash is dead. Why? Because everyone hated it and it had less than zero value, if that's possible. It was designed as a workaround by the legal teams to prevent any conflict with the BBC and Top Gear. It was a bad idea that shouldn't have left the writer's room. Luckily now, there’s a new segment: Celebrity Face Off, or, as Jeremy said, Celebrity F-Off for short.
Bringing celebrities in was a needed PR value boost, so its understandable why it's part of the show. Each new episode will feature two celebrities of the same field competing against each other on a new purpose built rallycross track. Ironically, this is quite similar to what Top Gear did when Chris Evans took it over.
The Grand Tour continues to impress with cinematic production values. Episode one opens with a Honda NSX, Lamborghini Aventador S, and a Rimac Concept_One driving through the Swiss Alps. Even though this wasn’t meant to be the debut episode, you can’t pick a better location to showcase beautiful aerial shots of three sports cars. It's absolutely stunning, with much credit due to the editors. Something else that likely flew under the radar was the brilliant job on sound design, especially with the juxtaposition of the silent Concept_One against the V12 growl of the Lamborghini. This alone should entice you to watch.
But even with all those high compliments, the show still has some room to grow. There was a segment within the first episode that showcased the hosts getting lost in the city center of Lucerne, desperately trying to navigate the tight streets in their very wide sports cars. It felt forced, inauthentic, and it dragged on. That time could have been better spent, perhaps giving more details on the cars.
The episode also felt like it didn't have that much depth or detail on the car. There were multiple times Richard Hammond referenced the Concept_One as being deeply impressive—but he never stated why. In fact, there was very little learned about the all-electric hypercar in the episode. I have spent hours around the Concept_One and that still wasn’t enough time to fully grasp all the clever bits and electric drivetrain innovations. No, not the best interior, but there are some really trick details that should’ve been at least mentioned, like the fully CNC’d switchgear.
That leads me to the drag race on a Swiss airport runway between there three subject vehicles. Spoiler alert: the Rimac absolutely destroys the Honda and Lamborghini. It was so stunning that even Clarkson found his way into the crazy small cabin of the Rimac and did a few runs. But you'd never know because that never made it into the show. Why?
It leads me to believe that genuinely raw moments aren't being captured for some reason or another. Or, if they are, they don't end up in the final edit as often as they should. If any Amazon executives or GT producers are reading this: We applaud the efforts to make the show more commonly acceptable to a broader audience, but don’t dumb it down like every other American TV show. Always remember, humans inherently want to learn and watch genuine moments. This is a car show, let us learn about the cars and the cool tech, even if it may be hard to explain.
The season's first episode did conclude with the big moment everyone was waiting for: Hammond's crash. Speaking of genuine moments, the editors did a great job putting together this segment. It was raw and authentic, not overly edited or dramatized. Probably because they didn't have a lot of footage, so they had no choice but to keep it simple.
Based on this first episode, the second season of The Grand Tour looks promising. They’ve left some room for improvement on the table, and that just gives you more reason to watch as the out of order season airs on Amazon Prime in the coming weeks. Heather Schuster, the head of Unscripted Programming at Amazon, proclaimed that season one of The Grand Tour was Amazon Prime's most watched series. I’m really interested in seeing if the show's audience will grow over the course of the season; these are uncharted waters for a unscripted, scripted show.
P.S. More on the Rimac and my connection to this story: The day Richard crashed the Concept_One, I was on a flight to Croatia to film that exact car for /Drive on NBC Sports. Arriving with no car to film, we had a wonderful few days in Zagreb, a city I would have never explored unless I had nothing else to do. Thanks, Richard?
J.F. Musial is a New York-based producer and director of automotive programming. He founded TangentVector, the automotive-centric production company that spawned /DRIVE. He now makes content for automakers and racing series like WEC and F1, and documentaries like APEX: The Story of the Hypercar.