For track tests, the script was detailed, the better to keep Clarkson, Hammond, or May on task. Send the lads out into the field for a lengthier feature, and the script more closely resembled a simple outline. With the move to The Grand Tour, one of our biggest complaints has been the rigid structure of the more free-form segments at expense of the natural chemistry between the hosts. See episode two's military fiasco in Jordan. With episode four, The Grand Tour's main segment balances heavy-handed jokes without smothering the fun chemistry between the hosts.
Like episode three, the meat of The Grand Tour's fourth installment is a promising premise – build cars with ecologically friendly powertrains, but with interiors and exteriors that rely on natural materials. And in true Clarkson, Hammond, and May fashion, the effort is ham-fisted. A dose of irony underpins the hilarity of the team's efforts, too, since these "sustainable" bodies and cabins ride atop the ecologically unfriendly Land Rover Discovery.
Like last week's episode, The Grand Tour's latest stunt relies on the cars as supporting characters. Only one of the efforts comes close to sustainability – Hammond's "Ark," as the show's hosts call it, looks like a Rose Parade reject. The Hamster's garden on wheels comes complete with a semi-thatched roof and flower beds at each corner and plays the straight man in this segment. Clarkson, meanwhile, goes disgusting with his meat wagon. While he starts off innocently – we're using that term very loosely – Jezza eventually replaces some of the animal-heavy Discovery's parts with fresh meat... which begins rotting. The host ends up with tampons in his nostrils and maggots under the Disco's hide hood. May's creation isn't as disgusting, although it's the most idiotic and delivers the bulk of the segment's gags, many of which we'd usually deride.
But we can't do that with May's gags, because he carries them off with an absolute straight face. Clarkson lumbers into over-the-top executions and Hammond can't help but wear a schoolboy's impish smile when asked to do something silly. But May? When he puts on an American football helmet and shoulder pads, we know he's about to endure some stupid gag, but his simple, pedantic James May-ness makes it work. In episode four, we aren't laughing at the stunts themselves, but May's Graham Chapman-esque attitude toward his numerous pratfalls.
The rest of episode four's humor relies on the usual ambitious-but-rubbish execution of past Top Gear challenges. The hosts need to get their sustainable cars across a mere 11 miles of Welsh countryside, and then participate in an endurance race against "old-fashioned" steel-bodied cars. James May's relentlessly decaying car and Clarkson's rotten meat mobile hold up affairs, and it takes several "days" to complete the journey. In this regard, the feature segment of the fourth show feels average – it's not as bad as episode two's sitcom jokes, but episode four isn't as natural or as fun as last week's Italian tryst.
The eco-car challenge dominates episode four. Conversation Street remains an entertaining time suck, just as The News was on Top Gear, while Clarkson's ho-hum review of the Porsche 911 GT3 RS and BMW M4 GTS serves as the show's opening segment.
As with the previous excursions at the Eboladrome, this is The Grand Tour's (and Top Gear's before it) bread and butter. It's beautifully shot – the M4's orange accents, the 911's
Despite the two-car test, Mike "The American" Skinner only makes one appearance, lapping the M4 GTS. His short segment's commentary is blissfully short, although we still prefer silent test drivers – or in the Stig's case, a driver that only speaks beyond the frequency range of human ears. That said, we're okay with Skinner's work if his in-car comments are this limited or his appearances on the show this infrequent.
It's worth noting that this is the first episode in The Grand Tour's run to take place in just one country – the UK, naturally. The tent is still in Whitby, although the show didn't simply recycle last week's opener, so watch for the small changes. The decision to stay in the same spot for two weeks straight is on odd one, considering how adamant the hosts were that they'd be living a gypsy lifestyle, bouncing from country to country. Our guess? While the show is ostensibly repeating locales because May and Hammond blew up Clarkson's house last week and he claims he doesn't have anywhere else to go, we're wondering if maybe the team just wanted a couple weeks at home – we wouldn't blame them in the least.
The Grand Tour's fourth episode does the best job of erasing inconsistencies from the last three weeks. There are jokes, and some of them are indeed very heavy-handed, corny, and predictable. But as with episode three, it's the chemistry and character of the show's three hosts and a strong concept that keeps this episode's head above water.