Reveling in the Banter of Three Middle-Aged British Dudes

Reveling in the Banter of Three Middle-Aged British Dudes

Why you should care

Because they like driving to the edge.

Watching three grown men play with motorized toys while acting like children had become a Sunday-night tradition. Families raced for their sofas as the sound of the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” piped up, signaling the start of Top Gear. Petrol-heads and non-car enthusiasts alike sat side by side, learning about the latest automobiles, drooling over what they couldn’t afford, poking fun at what they could afford — and reveling in the banter of three middle-aged British men.

Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May dished up motoring know-how with a dash of self-deprecating humor, topping it with well-timed comedy and, yes, some questionable jokes. Clarkson, the least PC of the bunch, got his wrists slapped countless times for everything from swearing to diplomatic debacles — he finally got sacked for punching a producer. The other two loyally followed, and the Beeb changed lanes, adding new hosts and driving ratings south. Die-hard fans of the original trio were left spinning their wheels. But Clarkson, Hammond and May are buckling up for another lap — this time for The Grand Tour on Amazon, a new 12-part series that hits screens on November 18. I have not seen anything but the trailer, but I’ll double down now and say it’s time to pony up for Prime.

An oaf, buffoon and occasional jackass [Clarkson] is, but I still like him and his opinionated delivery.

“An oaf, buffoon and occasional jackass [Clarkson] is, but I still like him and his opinionated delivery,” says Jeff Griffiths, a Top Gear fan from Calgary, Canada. He gave the BBC’s new cast a chance, but he felt like the replacement host — Chris Evans, who has since left the show — “was trying to be Clarkson, Hammond and May all in one body, and he came off like an exuberant squirrel.” He’s hoping the Beeb’s version improves — not because he isn’t excited by The Grand Tour; he is, but he sadly can’t see it. The spokesperson for Amazon Studios explains that the show is only available on Amazon Prime Video, and only in the U.S., U.K., Austria, Germany and Japan. Sorry, Canada. “So I’ll either have to get it pirated somehow, or hope that it’s popular enough that a service in Canada will buy it,” says Griffiths.

Meanwhile, he can watch old reruns and “remember the lads as they were,” he adds. The rest of us, though, can tune in to see how the lads still are. For some, this will require forgiving Clarkson for his misdeeds — and no one’s promising there won’t be more skid marks. When asked whether Clarkson had mellowed since audiences last saw him, Hammond, according to Amazon, quipped, “No, he’s still appalling.” “The man doesn’t change,” he said, ”but people seem to like him,” demonstrating that the trio’s wry humor remains very much intact.

But will the new show be the same? Clarkson, Hammond and May have all said that they’ve used this opportunity to reinvent themselves, all the better to prevent their on-screen adventures from growing stale. So rather than recording before studio audiences in England, The Grand Tour, as the name suggests, hits the road every week, filming with audiences on location in a giant tent from far-flung destinations: the California desert, Lapland, Johannesburg. Shooting in 4K ultra high definition and in a tighter space is meant to feel more intimate and modern, but the men’s enthusiasm for all things motoring remains old-school. Coming with them, and key to the operation, according to Hammond, is longtime executive producer Andy Wilman. The Stig and the celebrity laps remain with the BBC. But that’s OK, because fans tune in mostly for the chemistry.

The three all drink, smoke and swear too much, not to mention fly around dirt tracks and stunning landscapes in ridiculously priced cars in ways that would get most of us killed. But they do it with the zeal of a little boy flinging his Tonkas around a sandpit: making goofy noises, getting filthy, kicking dirt in faces and loving every minute of it.

And onlookers can’t help but smile.

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