Amazon's The Grand Tour and its cheeky co-presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May had a hard act to follow this week with the second episode. The Grand Tour, a big budget reprisal of the BBC’s Top Gear, was Amazon's most watched premiere when it debuted Nov. 17.
The trio certainly tried, with an elaborate segment that involved guns, grenades, an old Airbus, and Black Hawk helicopters at a Jordanian special forces training center. But it was the less "big bang" moments where they shined.
This week, the roving all-things-auto show took their studio tent to South Africa, where the team continued with their pointed banter in which one of them is usually the punchline. This week, the teasing and one-liners extended all the way to the president. For instance, Clarkson used South African President Jacob Zuma—and his controversial collection of luxury items—to segue into the primary topic of cars.
And yes, there were cars. And explosions. And assault guns and grenades. And awkward jokes about terrorists and the Queen of England.
The episode, while entertaining, gave off the distinctive smell of trying too hard at times. Other moments were pure brilliance.
The Aston Martin Vulcan played a feature role in the opening segment. The 7-liter V12 is both beautiful and totally impractical, but that doesn't matter because this is The Grand Tour.
Clarkson opens the segment attempting to get into the $2.2 million vehicle—a short one-minute bit that still satisfied. Something about watching a grown man struggle to get into a car, even if it's scripted, is hilarious. Then it was onto the track, where things didn't go much better.
"I'm not going to say it's like being attacked by a bear because it isn't, but it's like being in a room with a bear that's thinking of attacking you," Clarkson says while muscling the super machine around a track.
Eventually, Clarkson gets the hang of the 820 horsepower vehicle with the help of the Aston Martin test driver and team of mechanics. The vehicle, which goes from 0 to 62 mph in 2.9 seconds, can reach a top speed of 208 mph when the rear wing is deployed. It is a sight to behold. Even if it doesn't have a hand brake.
Former NASCAR racer Mike Skinner makes his second appearance—we can safely assume this will be a recurring role—to take the Vulcan to task. He's not impressed, at one point calling it a "red-headed stepchild." But despite his grumbling, he does manage to set a new lap record on the official The Grand Tour track at 1:15.5, beating out the McLaren 650S, Audi R8 V10 Plus, Nissan GTR, and the Porsche 911 C2S. Of course, at $2.2 million you'd hope it would.
From here it was onto "Conversation Street," where the three discuss whatever. This week the focus was on hypercars and featured the Aston Martin 001, a collaboration between Aston Martin and Red Bull F1 and the Bugatti Chiron, a beast of a vehicle that can drain its gas tank in 9 minutes if driven flat out at its 261 mph top speed.
Here's where the show took a long, winding, somewhat tiresome turn. The group heads to an special forces training camp, where they will have to rescue a high-value target who has been taken hostage by terrorists.
The sound mixing was great, and there was certainly a lot going on. The banter between the three held the bit together, but even here there were forced moments. The segment started out well, but then dragged on just a little too long. They actually broke the whole segment into two parts, an acknowledgement of its lengthiness.
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Another car finally was featured on the show in the second half of this segment. This time it was an Audi S8 Plus, a 4-liter twin turbo V8, that was used in the car chase on the camp grounds.
The show included several other fun, sometimes weird mini-segments, including an almost newsy feature on "spinning," a sort of drag racing (in circles) activity in South Africa, where people take a rear-wheel car and spin it in the arena until the tires explode.
Other highlights included a South African man who made a replica of the Mercedes C9 that won the 24 hours of LeMans race in 1989, and the recurring "Celebrity Brain Crash" bit.
Actress and South African Charlize Theron makes an appearance in Celebrity Brain Crash. Sort of. She, like the other celebrities who were featured in this segment last week, is "killed" in some ridiculous fashion before reaching the stage. Theron is taken out by a lion.