The Grand Tour: Launch Review

After a failed season of Top Gear, the self-proclaimed (kind of, subtly) “Holy Trinity” of Clarkson, May and Hammond faced an easier return. Expectation has been replaced with comforting relief. The Grand Tour was promoted as a different beast to their former show, well, it isn’t. But this isn’t a bad thing.

The show’s premise is the trio will tour the globe, hosting from a tent. The reality: Top Gear on steroids. Arriving to a Burning Man style concert in an American desert, it’s clear the show has jumped up a scale. Everything’s bigger, including the presenters’ waist lines. Inside the tent (picture the Top Gear studio but with a screen displaying the background in lieu of an aircraft hangar), Clarkson corrects Americans on the correct name of car parts and we’re away.

First segment, they take to the track. It reminds us this is a car show. And who doesn’t like a 950 horse power Ferrari? Nobody that is watching this show. Throw in a McLaren for good measure and it’s clear these big kids have been let loose on big kids’ toys. Albeit, electrical engine toys . . . in a drag race (note the Clarkson-esq pause).

That soon becomes a classic drive through the hills, which May can’t participate in because his Ferrari isn’t licensed for road use. Classic stitch-up, break for a pause, back to the studio. All very Top Gear, but better than Top Gear.

Cars are still put through their paces on a track for testing. An Ebola shaped track, no less. The BMW M2 is the debutant, paving the way for a new (old) regular feature to commence. What it does is give something scarily like a proper review of the car, making it almost feel like a classic style car show.

Of course, the Ebola Drome needs a timed lap. Enter The Stig. Well, almost. Enter The American (NASCAR’s Mike Skinner). Unlike The Stig, he is all chat when behind the wheel.

The Celebrity Brain Crash replaces Star in a Reasonably Priced Car but turns out to be a gag about stars dropping dead on the way to the show. Sadly, the trio can’t see the future, and the otherwise decent joke fails when a “dead” Carol Vorderman is spotted in the audience. It’s kind of distracting when she’s currently in the headlines for getting massages on the most viewed TV show in Britain I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

Part two of Porsche vs McLaren vs Ferrari concludes with former F1 driver Jérôme d’Ambrosio performing timed laps after the lads couldn’t split the cars. The winning car doesn’t steal the show, that’s reserved for Clarkson, May and Hammond’s gag should Clarkson’s McLaren not be the fastest.

The verdict is The Grand Tour is an overriding success. Already it all feels familiar but somehow fresh. Those that mourned the loss of Top Gear, rejoice. Get an Amazon subscription and enjoy its rebirth.

10/10

 

 

 

 

Big Brother 2016 Review – Review

Before we head into Celebrity Big Brother, let’s look at the regular version. I say regular, that implies it is for regular people. People off the street, plucked from obscurity in the elusive chase for fame. Those days have long since passed. Now it is a junkyard for people on the fringes, of those on the fringes, of fleeting fame. Failed “reality” TV stars that try to make it on an original reality TV pioneer.

The problem is, Big Brother is now a modern reality TV show. It feels part scripted with “contestants” too aware of the medium. Craig from Season 1 had no idea what being in the house meant. The players of 2016 haven’t got a game plan to win, they have a career path that are attempting to manipulate with TV time.

Emma Willis is the face of this charade but her stewardship is equal to Davina’s from the original and light years ahead of Brian Dowling’s failed effort. Like Davina McCall, she appears to love the show and is absorbed in the characters. She adds warmth and familiarity. But as good as she is, if the show failed in between her live shows, nobody would enjoy her.

This year the feel of the entrants made it worth sticking around. Despite being an ensemble of people already used to media exposure, the balance of fame-seeking and genuine personalities shone through.

Welsh girl Lateysha Grace sums this up best. She came across as a slapper on MTV’s The Valleys. Acting the promiscuous tart she took offence to being labelled as in the house. And rightly so. Judging her on her views and actions in BBUK, she was down-to-earth and lovely.

So why knowingly play a role using her real name, for just five minutes of fame?

It undermines her true self.

Her only cracks came when she was tactically booted. As a single parent, she felt her reason for winning had greater validity. Lateysha still needs to learn one important lesson: Life owes you nothing.

Her axe wielder was eventual winner Jason. His presence, made the belief the whole thing could be rigged gain credibility. In an early “twist” there were two houses. The Others occupied a secret home alongside the main one. Jason spent days going on about an ex he couldn’t possibly do the Big Brother experience with. Guess what, she was part of The Others and soon joined the main cast.

A similar plot occurred with geezer Chelsea and kiss-and-tell Jayne.

This wasn’t real people showing the diversity of the British public. It was pure, pre-ordained, entertainment.

But it survived the cynicism – just.

Other standouts were Jackson. He had more voices than tattoos; came from the street (but was actually a model); fell in love with a posh bird he made out was a fairy tale dream. Being BBUK, she complied and the fairy tale came true.

That’s when Georgina wasn’t dictating to Jackson. But her harshness was a defensive mechanism. In a house of frauds, she displayed true emotions. I hope for her sake, Jackson proves himself to be genuine.

Proving BBUK can always provide a disillusioned, despicable human, we met Laura Carter. A woman who described herself as “an established actress” before entering the house. If that’s true, I’m Barry Norman.

She’ll be remembered for sleeping with Marco Pierre White’s immature, overactive son. Pretending she is vulnerable but savvy. Pretending she had a long lost love. Pretending she wasn’t selfish or self-centred when she embodies both those evils.

Andy was the “intelligent” addition. Proving that repeatedly saying something, doesn’t make it true. Pretty fun watching him not know how many make a baker’s dozen. In the kingdom of the blind…

He got engaged on the show, when during a task, his boyfriend entered the house for an overnight stay. While it provided a touching moment, it shows how far the show has fallen from the original social experiment. A founding rule was: No contact with the outside world.

Now they get news updates and Tweets read to them and hands in marriage.

Ryan had a love affair with fan-favourite and runner-up, Hughie. The former was a scouser playing for the cameras. The latter an intriguing Irishman, that came in, broke taboos and stereotypes, and allowed a heart of gold to shine through.

He was easy to disagree with, at times. But “real” people show all sides and all shades. It’s proof the makers of Big Brother can go back to basics and bring in the general public. Real is more explosive, more engaging.

Big Brother shouldn’t be a retraining school for failed reality stars. It should be relevant. Right now IMDb don’t even add new series to their page.

Go back to basics, BBUK or face extinction.

5/10

 

Why Chris Evans Had to Leave Top Gear

After weeks of online criticism and falling ratings, Chris Evans has stepped down as Top Gear host. Short of a biblical turnaround, the future looked bleak for his continuing presence on the motoring show. But it isn’t just viewing figures that led to his demise.

There are several factors that have come into play. All of these have created the perfect storm, for an imperfect revival of a major BBC asset. The most obvious is the declining viewing figures. Evans himself never helped his own corner here.

The first show drew 4.7m on the night (0.3m below the prelaunch target Evans had set). On the face of it, this was acceptable. But the ginger one took to Twitter to defend the numbers. Hammering home “facts”. A 23% audience share, 12% higher than launch of the previous series.

When the figures continued to drop, he added that TV viewing habits had changed. That people consumed on the iPlayer. Again, not entirely untrue but it fails to acknowledge that a successful, well received broadcast, maintains a relatively unchanged viewership. Last night’s show brought home 1.9m.

Add all the iPlayer views you want, that isn’t acceptable.

In many ways Chris Evans is the David Moyes to Jeremy Clarkson’s Sir Alex Ferguson. It was always going to be a tough job to fill. Couple this with another disadvantage he had in comparison to his predecessor – chemistry with is co-hosts – and he was always doomed.

Rumours circulated that Matt Le Blanc threatened to walk if Evans remained. In the face of so many personal attacks, the BBC had to lean on Evans to leave.
That leaning would have intensified in the wake of sexual abuse claims; which Evans seriously denies. The allegations refer back to a time in the 90s, and could be heard within the next few weeks.

After Operation Yewtree, and the way the corporation hounded, a later to be cleared, Sir Cliff Richard, they couldn’t take the risk that a failing show was about to face scandal. His radio show is an easier plug to pull if required further down the line.

Ratings, ruptures and red top headlines. He had to go.

What is most baffling is how one of British television’s greatest pioneers became so entrenched in a nostalgia trip. His version of Top Gear should have been about reinvention. The nods to the past subtle or sublime. Instead he was living in a nightmarish version of Quantum Leap, where everybody found him too loud, the show too dull.

Chris Evans can bounce back from this but it will require a project that enables him to tread new ground. Not the safe path he was so eager to stay on.

New Top Gear Review

One of BBC’s flagship shows has finally returned to our screens. Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc replace Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May as Top Gear presenters. The interest in how they’d do has been intense as the shadow of the three departing hosts looms large. At last, we have some answers.

The show pulls no punches in the opening segment. Evans and Sabine Schmitz (a German female driver) head to the actual Top Gun facility in America. Cue movie quotes galore, one of which Sabine gets comically incorrect, and two co-pilots. Their job is to control a laser guided targeted system attached to Evans’ and Schmitz’s cars.

It was Dodge Viper versus Corvette Z06, and while the concept was fun, it becomes clear early on this new Top Gear is going to be very scripted and staged. “Hit the brakes and fly right by,” the famous quote used to avoid a lock-on. Without proper planning, two supercars would have been written off.

That’s not to say the old show wasn’t planned but it always felt natural. That lack of organic feel becomes evident once Evans and LeBlanc share screen time together. At this moment there isn’t a spark between them. It may come over time, and there’s enough promise to suggest they deserve the chance.

This week’s theme was USA v UK and was decided by driving Robin Reliants to Blackpool, a series of challenges (standard dragging Ice Cream vans around stuff), climaxing in Jeeps hauling the Reliants to the top of a hill. The main thing to take away from it is how much Matt LeBlanc looks like Ross Kemp if you put him in a helmet and goggles.

Breaking up the challenge was LeBlanc in a buggy skipping around Morocco. Again, it was a decent feature but the stunt at the end was pure script and felt out of place.

The show has justification sticking to the tried and tested formula. Star in a Reasonably Priced Car got an upgrade. It’s now a Mini and there’s an off-road section in the track. Gordon Ramsey and Jesse Eisenberg the first to take the new layout. But sticking to the old way too closely leaves Top Gear feeling dated.

Evans has said the show isn’t in competition with Clarkson and Co.’s The Grand Tour, and with good reason. They will never go head-to-head and The Grand Tour’s £140m budget dwarfs BBC’s own production. But what it does is highlight how “New” Top Gear now feels old.

It doesn’t help when Evans is sat in cars trying to do a Clarkson impression. He has enough natural charisma and presenting experience to avoid this. The problem is worsened by LeBlanc’s blandness. It could be seen as a cynical move having the American on the show just to increase its export value.

Overall the show just got a lick of paint when it’s clear it needed the type of overhaul Matt LeBlanc’s Robin Reliant required.

Based on the Top Gun section and the potential, it gets 6/10.