I genuinely can’t remember a point in my life where TV hosts Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond weren’t what was being chosen to watch in the family front room. Back when Top Gear was on Netflix, I found myself, in my own personal time, rewatching episodes over and over again. Like many, something drew me to their specials, with the season 19 Africa special, in my eyes, being their best work.
It was a sad day when multiple new sources reported they’d be leaving Top Gear, back in 2015. The unsure future of if I’d ever see my favorite trio again was a disturbing thought, but thankfully, they had a show picked up by Amazon, The Grand Tour. The new title immediately reminding me of the season 14 premiere of Top Gear in which they tried to answer which car would be the best to take on a grand tour of Europe.
Episodes like that were what I was expecting from the new show, while also understanding that it would have to be different in some way or another. What I came to realize over the years, was that with the new changes made, something felt off. It was, of course, still fun to watch the hosts argue amongst themselves about ‘this or that,’ but why they were arguing seemed to be for no reason at all.
Now, I’ve already compared Top Gear and The Grand Tour before, in an article that can be found here. So, to see how the newest special Lochdown, set the show back on the right track, let’s look at the 2 specials that came before this in Grand Tour’s 4th season, with Seamen, and A Massive Hunt.
We start by examining Seamen, which hopefully is the last time I’ll ever say that. This special brought forth a twist by having boats, instead of cars, in Cambodia. Early in the program, they briefly discuss the topic of global warming, but never do more than talk about it, and while other specials have funny moments in them, it would seem that the entire episode is itself a joke.
There are a few moments, such as taking about poor leadership of the past, and exploring a local market, where they could have built the theme of maybe hypocrisy, as they check into a 5 star hotel right after. Later in the episode Jeremey takes the time to go into further details about devastating events at the city of Chau Doc, but unfortunately, he doesn’t find a way to connect it back to their goal with boats. With that goal being… wait, what was it again?
While Seamen may be filled with funny moments and exquisite cinematography, there doesn’t seem to be a point to it, other than to remind us that Apocalypse Now is an iconic film.
Looking at A Massive Hunt, it says something when until doing research for this article, I didn’t just forget the name of this special, but forgot its entire existence. It should stand out, being the first time in Top Gear/Grand Tour history that one of the cars didn’t make it thought the whole journey. As well as having a pretty intriguing premise, with the trio looking for ancient pirate treasure in Madagascar!
The editing here stands out, making even the smallest moments seem ‘grand’ and exciting. So then, how could it be so forgettable? The biggest problem was there weren’t any obstacles when they started. By that I mean they could chose whatever car they wanted. Without the added suspense of “Will their second hand cars make it?” It makes so much of this one disappointing to watch. Now, there have been episodes in both shows where they choose whatever car they want, but here, they never state a clear reason why these cars should be compared to one another, or why they should be the center of attention on the quest for pirate treasure.
Lochdown, fixes nearly all of these problems. There is a reason for the special to exist, with the goal being to see why American cars never picked up in the UK. It’s an interesting question, and every time they stop to have a small side race or something along those lines, they find a way to engross the viewer into the overall point.
It’s very memorable not because they rely on their location to sell their point, but discuss interesting history about their cars, use the silliness of American and Scottish culture and apply it to further develop the themes presented.
The ending is the best part of Lochdown and makes the adventure this time around feel earned. It ends by them sitting in an “American” pub… uh, I mean bar, and they start to realize that it’s not exactly as it appears. They show how everything in the bar is make from China, using this to make the point that the America that so many dream of, might not exist anymore.
Making a statement like this brings the entire feature full circle, and brings the trio back to their roots. Lochdown felt so noteworthy to me because it was like watching a visual article, specifically an opinion piece, and most importantly, it felt like it had a soul.
This new special is a reminder that Jezza, Captain Slowly, and the Hamster didn’t become famous only because they were TV presenters, but because at their core, they’re car journalists. And, clearly, by the journeys I’ve just described, they’re doing important work.