Here they are again, not so much the three amigos as an explosion of egos, crisscrossing the globe in extravagantly silly transport, offending entire nations and leaving wreckage in their wake. In the new instalment of The Grand Tour (Amazon Prime Video), sniggeringly subtitled “Seamen”, professional blowhard Jeremy Clarkson and his subordinates Richard Hammond and James May travel to southeast Asia where they embark on a race from Siem Reap in Cambodia to Vung Tau in Vietnam. The twist here is that they are travelling not by road but by water – insert your own jokes about wheels falling off here.
Few televisual conceits have weathered so poorly as the “Brits abroad” one, with its waft of colonialism and condescension. Nonetheless, the conviction remains among television executives that it still has legs, especially when merged with a car show. The Grand Tour has now done away with the studio tent in favour of a series of globetrotting specials, the word “special” being open to interpretation in this festival of hubris and testosterone.
The show’s budget is undoubtedly a thing of wonder. As is custom, our hosts each rock up with their vehicle of choice, comparing girth and horsepower like schoolboys at a urinal. As May chugs up in a sedate wooden pleasure boat, and Hammond appears in a flamboyantly painted speedboat straight from Miami Vice, Clarkson – who has the air of a bloated military chief sent to a deserted outpost where he can’t do any more damage – reveals he has blown £100K on a PBR, the navy patrol boat used by American forces during the Vietnam War. “I’ve bought a little bit of history, at vast expense, back to southeast Asia,” he notes, self-importantly.
The drill is familiar, both from previous Grand Tours and from the trio’s alma mater, Top Gear. There are stunts, sight gags and the casual mocking of Johnny Foreigner as our hosts peruse markets selling designer knock-offs and sit down to a dinner of stir-fried crickets. Clarkson’s idea of historical context is to compare Jeremy Corbyn to Pol Pot and recommend the film The Killing Fields. Arrogance and imbecility abound, as they smash into tiny fishing boats before blundering off, rarely pausing to inspect the damage. When their engines become clogged with mud and weeds, or as they run aground down narrow canal corridors, local men are drafted in to unclog the pipes and clear up their mess.
With the action unfolding on water as opposed to tarmac, the pace here is unusually sedate. Meanwhile, the bubbling tension between our dramatis personae now seems to have curdled into outright dislike, with May maintaining a conspicuous distance from his co-stars on his modest vessel. There is no chemistry or camaraderie; even the pranks are half-arsed. At no point does anyone look happy in their work. When they hit the South China Sea, where they are met with crashing waves and relentless, painful spray, all three appear positively ashen. The Grand Tour on wheels has its problems, but this one’s dead in the water.