We were hoping for a grand finale, but the last episode of The Grand Tour's first season was anything but.
Thirteen weeks later, we’ve come to the end of the road of The Grand Tour’s first season. After all the hype, it’s fair to say that not every episode met our wildest expectations, and while there were many entertaining episodes, there’s a nagging sense that the show tried too hard at times to recapture the magic of Top Gear and court controversy. We were expecting the first season finale to be an epic send-off on a par with the bombastic opening episode – but it was surprisingly tame. Underwhelming, even.
You get the feeling that a lot of filler material was saved for the season finale. Unlike most episodes, it didn’t open with an exotic supercar test on the Eboladrome test track, but a down to earth, everyday comparison between the Volkswagen Golf GTI and the BMW i3 EV on the streets of London. Top Gear was notorious for its criticism of EVs, and Clarkson was equally cynical about the i3. The film had its moments, but it was a muted opening in stark contrast to the Mad Max-style spectacle of the first episode. With no supercars tested, 'The American' was nowhere to be found, thankfully, but we once again had to endure another Celebrity Brain Crash, this time featuring F1 legend Daniel Ricciardo.
Why they thought stretching the same joke across 13 episodes was a good idea is anyone's guess. It’s painfully unfunny and predictable. James May was also introduced to the bizarre sport of "Winching," where people deliberately drive into mud baths, get stuck and repeatedly winch themselves out for fun. It was all an excuse for May to get splattered in copious amounts of mud and fall over a lot which was amusing at first, but you could tell he was suffering for it. Again, this was blatantly filler material. Then we had the much-anticipated Veyron versus Porsche 918 Spyder drag race, continuing the theme of old versus new.
It was good to finally see the show utilize the tent location, and while we won’t spoil the result, it’s surprising that the show didn’t use the more recent souped-up Veyron SS, rather than the ancient original that’s over a decade old. By far the highlight was Hammond’s crash course on the art of sideways driving. In a film similar to Hammond’s lesson on how to handle an F1 car in Top Gear, it was an insightful piece that will make you appreciate the skill required to hold a drift. You got a great sense of how Hammond learned to hone his skills, and he even confessed that clever editing disguised some of the sideways driving performed by stunt drivers in Top Gear’scar reviews,if it wasn't already obvious.
The undisputed star of the show, however, was professional race driver Bartek Ostalowski during a climactic drifting contest between Hammond and some seasoned sliders. Despite losing both arms in a motorcycle accident, Ostalowski drifted like a pro while steering with his foot and shifting with his shoulder in a remarkable display of car control that would make drift king Ken Block proud. The Grand Tour season one finale was an enjoyable episode overall, but it was a disjointed end to a very uneven show. Hopefully the team can learn from their misfires when the show returns for a second season later this year. At least we have the new season of Top Gear to look forward to before then.