In the second of a series of feature-length The Grand Tour specials, we come upon hosts Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond playing bocce in a sun-splashed seaside resort that looks like it’s in the south of France. It’s actually on the island of Réunion, which is a part of France but in the Indian Ocean. It’s a pretty cushy trip to start, but we know they won’t be there very long.
The Gist: There, the guys do what they usually do, which is trot out their car of choice to use throughout the special. Jeremy has a V8 Bentley Continental, “a big, heavy suet pudding of torque and opulence.” Richard has a Ford Focus RS, which he says “It’s light, 1500 kilos, and it’s clever.” James, quirky as ever, picks a Caterham 310R race car, which he admits is a “faff to get in.” It also has a deadman’s key on the outside, which Richard and Jeremy keep removing after James is fully buckled and zipped in. The three of them have a drag race on a new ring road France is building in the ocean, about 100 yards offshore.
As they wile away in relative luxury, “Mr. Willman” (executive producer Andy Willman) tells them that a massive gold cross, worth tens of millions of pounds, is buried somewhere on the east coast of Madagascar. They’re given a map and an encoded message, which James takes days to even slightly decode. When they realize they need to go over to Madagascar, which James says has the worst roads in the world, they decide they have to prepare their cars for the journey.
Jeremy armors the Bentley, and gives it the ability to go through almost a foot of water without stalling out. Richard arms his Focus with a front rollbar and replaces the wheels with small treads, literally “reinventing the wheel,” as he says. James puts bigger rear tires on the light-as-heck Caterham.
As they drive up the coast to the town that Richard swears the treasure is buried — he’s known about the legend since “forever” but didn’t tell his matemies — they’re at first dismayed that the roads are smooth and they souped up their cars for nothing. But then the roads get rough…. then rougher… and then so rough that they can barely be called roads. We’re talking narrow passes full of ruts and dirt and massive puddles (which James has to endure in the roof-less Caterham), testing the abilities of all three cars.
The treads on Richard’s Focus keep falling off, while Jeremy’s behemoth of a Bentley eventually blows a radiator part. Somehow, though, James’s Catherham does the best, despite the entire interior and exterior being caked in mud.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Well, given who’s hosting this show, it should remind you of the four years of The Grand Tour, and before that, many, many years of Clarkson, May and Hammond on Top Gear.
Performance Worth Watching: We love James May because he’s so damned droll, all the time. Even when he’s being splashed with mud and excrement in the Catherham, he takes it in stride and with a quip. While Clarkson plays the puffed-up sophisticate and Hammond plays the adrenaline junkie, May is always in the middle, experiencing these adventures much the way we might, with some mild complaining and a wicked sense of humor.
Memorable Dialogue: Richard goes all Bear Grylls and makes a beach oven to poach a fish. He tries to make more out of it than it is. “Two hours from now that is going to be… a cooked fish.”
Sex and Skin: Would you want any on this show?
Our Take: Listen, if you don’t know what you’re going to get by now after 12 years of Clarkson, Hammond and May on Top Gear and four years of them on The Grand Tour, then you’re probably not a fan. If you came at this show from that perspective, you might appreciate the scenery as the hosts travel up the coast of Madagascar, through some of the roughest road conditions ever seen. But you might have your doubts about some things.
For one, do the haughty Clarkson, semi-daffy May and cackling Hammond really have the ability to modify expensive performance cars, like they claim? Of course they don’t; they have a slew of mechanics who did that work for them. Are they really roughing it on the beach? Probably not. Are they on their own trying to get these cars through the ruts and mud of these terrible roads? No, they have a caravan of production cars around them, though, as the program showed, they can get stuck just as easily as the hosts can.
No, the formula for The Grand Tour is pretty much set in stone; these three middle-aged Brits go on an adventure and try to prove that the car they chose is the best one for the trip. They are rude and blunt with each other, but ultimately help each other out of jams when needed. By no means, though, is the show any sort of depiction of reality. In a lot of spots, it felt downright scripted, or at least the conversations were guided. The show, and the specials, are meant to be an adventure road-comedy of sorts; given that we laughed a few times during the hosts’ difficulties in Madagascar, A Massive Hunt hit its mark.
But we’re also happy to see this era end with the three of them on the beach on “Pirate Island,” with Richard holding a chalice he found, disappointed that’s it’s “only” the Holy Grail. That’s about as goofy as we’ve seen this show get, and it feels like a good way to end things. But we’re pretty sure we’ll see these guys together again.
Our Call: STREAM IT. While the The Grand Tour’s formula may be a bit tired, A Massive Hunt works because Clarkson, May and Hammond have been doing this together for 17 years, and they have each other’s rhythms down pat.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.