It started amid a high-octane rumble of expectation, but after 13 episodes has gone out on something of a quiet note with far less incident, controversy, or even talked-about moments – hardly what fans of Jeremy Clarkson are used to.
With Amazon releasing no viewing figures and two more seasons already commissioned it is hard to be sure if The Grand Tour can be considered a success. All the company would say was that it was the most watched programme on its video service, with “millions” of people streaming the first episode.
The final episode was released on Friday, with a montage of the series as well as a blooper reel of Clarkson and Hammond’s various driving mishaps. “I admit it’s not important work – we haven’t brought peace to troubled parts of the world – but it is a job and we’re very good at it,” Clarkson said.
But Tom Ross, former editor of motoring programmes for the BBC, who gave Clarkson his first break on Top Gear in 1988 as part of an effort to introduce more challenging figures, said what The Grand Tour lacked was the introduction of any significant elements that made it fresh and exciting.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Clarkson, but I just thought he would have used the opportunity to make a show that was a bit different. He was an innovator, in saying the things he did, eventually getting more and more off the wall, I thought that was a great development in consumer shows.”
Under Ross, Top Gear became the top rated show on BBC2 for the first time. “The things I thought were strong about Top Gear were strong about The Grand Tour – pretty movies, top end cars, a wish list. What The Grand Tour added even more of was the light entertainment element. The show is very glossy, it looks great.
“But like Top Gear on the BBC without Clarkson, I think The Grand Tour shows too much money, too much freedom, and not enough of a guiding hand that says ‘that’s a little excessive’. When I saw the large stone heads of the hosts travelling across Westminster Bridge I just thought ‘they’ve given you more money than sense’.”
Amazon, however, judges success on the number of £79-a-year subscriptions it can attract. It said on the day the Grand Tour debuted in November, total new prime membership signups exceeded all previous days, with the exception of its promotional shopping days.
Amazon paid a reported $160m (£130m) for three series of the show after Clarkson was sacked by the BBC in March 2015; this was reflected in the touring budget which took the programme from Los Angeles to Whitby, and from Namibia to Loch Ness.
But critics’ reviews have also been mixed, with some noting that the show was underwhelming, lacking the spontaneity and humour that fans of Top Gear had come to cherish, with even the gaffs becoming few and far between.
The most notable of this season was when Hammond, in front of a live audience, linked eating ice-cream with being gay, drawing a round of criticism from LGBT campaigners. “There’s nothing wrong with it, but a grown man eating an ice-cream – it’s that way, rather than that way …”
Reviewing the series, the Guardian’s TV writer Stuart Heritage wrote: “Unless they’re doing something as silly as episode two’s Edge of Tomorrow spoof, you can often see the hosts glumly going through the motions. The lack of spontaneity in the new show is deadening, and the reliance on premeditated catastrophe feels like a sign that Clarkson, Hammond and May have lost confidence in themselves.”