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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Jeremy Clarkson and pals shift up a gear for The Grand Tour

Five episodes of the weekly show have been released so far, with seven more to come in season one, the finale of which is currently filming in Dubai.
The Grand Tour presenter Jeremy Clarkson. REX / Shutterstock
The Grand Tour presenter Jeremy Clarkson. REX / Shutterstock

As his Ford Mustang roars along an American motorway, Jeremy Clarkson is positively beaming. No wonder – he probably can’t believe his luck.

After he was dismissed from Top Gear in the aftermath of an “unprovoked physical and verbal attack” on a BBC producer, here he is, 18 months later, starring in a quite remarkable opening sequence for his new show.

It says everything about the brash, confident and, yes, self-satisfied atmosphere that surrounds The Grand Tour, which reportedly cost nearly US$4 million (Dh14m) an episode. It began last month on Amazon’s Prime streaming-video service which launched in the UAE last week.

Five episodes of the weekly show have been released so far, with seven more to come in season one, the finale of which is currently filming in Dubai.

Naturally, perhaps, the first episode begins with a little dig at the BBC bosses who put an end to Clarkson’s Top Gear shenanigans with co-presenters James May and Richard Hammond, who followed him out the door and onto The Grand Tour.

Clarkson is seen leaving a BBC-type building, handing his pass in to security in the rain. Next thing, he is in California, the sun is shining and he is driving along to the sound of the song, I Can See Clearly Now.

Two cars pull up alongside him, driven by Hammond and May sporting incredibly cheesy grins. They pull off into the desert and become part of a convoy headed to a Burning Man-style counterculture festival – except this one is called Burning Van (get it?), where a live band (1980s Irish soft rockers Hothouse Flowers) is playing the song Clarkson was listening to.

The musicians welcome the boys on stage to a heroes’ reception. Hammond promises not to tell jokes that will get them in trouble, and then they inevitably do, telling a couple that would undoubtedly have caused a huge furore on the BBC.

We are then introduced to the big tent, the show’s mobile studio (which is currently at the Burj Khalifa) and then... well, it really is like they have never been away.

There is some obviously scripted banter with the American audience and a Stig-like driver doing track tests, except this time he has a face and a name (Mike Skinner, although they call him The American).

They also have star guests, although not in reasonably-priced cars, because in the one real flat spot of The Grand Tour, they accidentally “kill” American actors Armie Hammer, Jeremy Renner and British TV presenter Carol Vorderman before they have spoken a word. Such larks.

Then, of course, there are the cars. The main feature of the first episode is a group test of a McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari and Porsche 918 – tellingly a long-held, unfulfilled ambition from the Top Gear days.

The boys muck about with about $3m of automobiles in Portugal in their usual high-octane, gorgeously shot style, except it goes on a bit too long – in fact the whole show is 10 minutes longer than the BBC version, and feels it.

Still, Top Gear fans are sure to love The Grand Tour regardless.

And maybe Clarkson and his cronies have come back at exactly the right time. After all, there is something very 2016 about incredibly wealthy, white, conservative men enjoying huge acclaim for “sticking it to the establishment” – while actually doing nothing of the sort.

With The Grand Tour, Hammond, May and Clarkson are obviously enjoying the freedom – creatively and financially – to do and say whatever they wish. And it is fun watching them.

But the show will need some more gas in the remainder of the season if it is to avoid being just a little too self-referential.

• Amazon’s video-streaming service is available now and costs $2.99 (Dh11) a month for the first six months ($5.99 thereafter). Go to www.primevideo.com for a free seven-day trial

artslife@thenational.ae