It had its share of highs and lows, but it’s still nice to see the return of Clarkson and company

Finally, the day arrived. The Grand Tour finally aired its pilot episode and it was definitely good to get Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond back into our lives. That’s the short version of it. The longer version is a little bit more complex since we’re not just going to talk about the return of the trio, but how they returned and most importantly, how they fared in their comeback.

The first episode of The Grand Tour had it all, and by all, I mean it had all of the elements from their old show Top Gear, right down to set pieces, the irreverent humor, the test driver, and the celebrity guests. Most of all, there were the cars and the first show devoted a significant part of its time showcasing the most exotic of exotics, specifically the Porsche 918 Spyder, McLaren P1, and Ferrari LaFerrari.

For a car that’s billed as a motoring show – even though it’s a variety show more than anything else – The Grand Tour got off on the right foot by shining the spotlight on what they called “the holy trinity.” The three hypercars dominated the show, but they were also far from the only highlights, or in some cases, lowlights of The Grand Tour’s S01E01.

We’ll dive through most of them after the jump, but let’s get started with how Clarkson, May, and Hammond navigated around the new show, alternating between introducing new segments, taking shots at one other like they always do, and even getting into a faux riot, all for the love of the British Royal Air Force.

The first episode of The Grand Tour lived up to its billing in some respects, but it also felt like we were still watching Top Gear, minus that tame racing driver.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

That opening sequence sure looked expensive

The Grand Tour's Opening Scene Reportedly Cost $3.2 Million To Produce
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One of the biggest news items that came out from the show’s production was how expensive the opening sequence was. There were reports that filming that sequence alone cost Amazon a whopping $3.2 million. And while the whole sequence, from Clarkson somberly exiting the BBC and handing over his ID card to finding new life in Los Angeles with a Mustang Rocket, did do its part from a storytelling perspective, the biggest take away yet again is the massive budget they used on this five-minute sequence. What I can tell you is that it sure looked like the producers used every penny of that $3.2 million. From the treasure trove of cars driving in the Nevada desert, including May and Hammond in their own Mustang Rockets, to the cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” by the Hot House Flowers, to the “Burning Van” Festival in the desert where they were playing to a packed crowd, everything about the opening sequence screamed $$$. Lots of it.

The more they’re different, the more they stay the same

This is one of the main takeaways from the pilot episode of the show. To be fair, the three hosts did intentionally try to poke fun at the segments they used to have on Top Gear, but the truth is, most of them were seen on the The Grand Tour as well. The “mobile tent studio” is different in logistics alone, but it still plays host to a studio audience. They didn’t dive much into the industry news, but you can tell that it’s going to be a significant part of the show’s backbone moving forward. They even introduced their new “test track,” which Clarkson affectionately calls the “Ebola Drome,” in large part because the layout resembles the ebola virus, or so he says. The larger point here is that The Grand Tour has its own test track similar to what it had on Top Gear with the only obvious difference being that the new show’s version of a “tame racing driver” is former NASCAR driver Mike “The American” Skinner. Actually, Skinner is far from what you’d consider tame with his outlandish and boorish comments that probably made Clarkson shed a tear in pride. The Grand Tour likely did this intentionally to showcase how its new test driver is the complete opposite of Top Gear’s muted Stig. But the formats are still similar to what they had on Top Gear, which makes me wonder how much differentiation future episodes will have from the show the trio left behind.

Some forced humor, but that’s to be expected

The faux riot bit was completely hilarious and it served as the perfect example of why Clarkson, Hammond, and May have been missed by fans of Top Gear. Think Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc could’ve pulled that off? Maybe LeBlanc because of his sitcom chops, but Evans? Yeah, lol, right? But the three Grand Tour hosts managed to play it off beautifully by boastfully claiming the superiority of the British Royal Air Force to the overly patriotic American crowd. The bit flowed freely and it was arguably the highlight of the show other than the three hyper cars.

On the flip side, the celebrity segment started off well, but it ultimately flamed out in the end as the hosts kept forcing us to believe that all of the celebrities they had booked for the show were dying before they even got inside the tent. Jeremy Renner and Armie Hammer made for a compelling two-man celebrity guest list, but they probably would’ve been more useful had they actually talked during the show. Let’s hope that celebrities in future episodes get more screen time than these two did.

Hypercar madness

2014 Ferrari LaFerrari High Resolution Exterior
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Jokes and gimmicks aside, the pilot episode of The Grand Tour will be best remembered for showcasing the Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari LaFerrari, and McLaren P1. Somewhat predictably, Clarkson, Hammond, and May infused a lot of humor into the comparisons, but in the end, all three hypercars got their turn in the spotlight, save for a digs at the legalities of driving a LaFerrari on public roads.

What can we expect from future episodes?

The rolling caravan that is The Grand Tour will be in Johannesburg, South Africa next week, and like everybody else, we have very vague ideas of what’s to come in that episode, and all succeeding episodes after that. The good news is that the show did do a season-long teaser/montage of what’s to come for all 12 episodes so if you can pry bits and pieces from the teaser, then you can create a clearer picture of what to expect.

Episode grade

As far as the first episode goes, I’d give it a solid ‘B’ grade. Seeing the three men back in their habitat was more than enough to pull the grade up, but it did have few hiccups here and there. Overall, a good return for Clarkson, Hammond, and May, even though, technically, they’re on the Internet now, which according to Clarkson, gives him the leeway to “pleasure a horse."

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