What Was ‘Wrong’ With The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen?
The start of Season 4 of The Grand Tour got off to a rocky start. While a lot of viewers had reacted positively to the on-water special, a larger proportion than usual have reacted negatively. In fact, reviews of a Grand Tour episode have never been so low, with the Independent giving it only 1 star out of 5, for example.
So what did The Grand Tour do wrong, if anything? In this article, I’m going to dig into the changes that have been made to the show coming from the third season and try and pinpoint what made this first Cambodia / Vietnam special so controversial.
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A Change Of Writers
Originally behind the scripts of Top Gear and more recently The Grand Tour, Richard Porter was absent from the making of Season 4. In fact, he posted on Twitter that apart from the initial idea stage, he wasn’t involved in any of the work for the first time in 17 years.
In the meantime, there's a new Grand Tour special out so maybe watch that. First TG/GT thing in 17 years I've had nothing to do with so I'm sure it's especially good. https://t.co/6yJ4z9jA6C
— Richard Porter (@sniffpetrol) December 13, 2019
Thankfully he’s working with Clarkson, Hammond and May on their individual projects, but his time on The Grand Tour looks to be coming to an end. He blames “No script, no cars, not much to do on GT.”
No script, no cars, not much to do on GT.
— Richard Porter (@sniffpetrol) December 13, 2019
If you take a look at the replies, again there was a mixed bag with a few wondering if this was the reason the show wasn’t quite up to par as previous episodes.
Ah. That explains quite a bit.
— Jane M (@ridesandskis) December 13, 2019
This leads me onto my second point quite nicely, so *boom*, subheading.
Lack Of Story
There’s a magic behind reliving a great rally, or building a car to get back to society, or travelling through Africa to find the source of the River Nile. It feels like an adventure and there’s a defined purpose, and while watching it we almost feel the feeling of getting closer to that end goal that Clarkson, Hammond and May must be longing for.
Seamen’s goal was to simply boat down a river. Not very interesting when you compare it to some of the greatest specials from the past, is it? Plus, the fact that a lot of the water had dried up must have knocked them back a bit, forcing them to quickly change their plans. This formed a quick discussion about climate change, and the last thing we want to hear is Clarkson talking about that. Not because he’s not an incredibly intelligent man, but because the silly, pompous, anti-claimate change act that he uses to make us all laugh was broken. Small niggle, but thought I’d drop it in.
So the presenters eventually get to their boats and make their way down the river towards Vietnam, and I think there’s a clear change that could have been made to remedy what comes next.
Not Just Boats, But Three Boats
I’m fine with boats. I’m here to watch the trio’s chemistry as they joke with each other and work around the issues they encounter no matter what vehicle it involves. Wheels, wings, or hulls, give me anything. But I believe what made the rest of the special not so interesting was the fact that they were on three separate boats.
Their characters were split by bodies of water, and this meant that only when they were close to each other they could they communicate properly. The objective of getting to the end of the river became an individual mission for each of them, only accentuated by the differing performance of the crafts. Clarkson could power ahead, while James May was left behind. Clarkson even said in an interview that Hammond and May were so far behind he was starting to worry.
“But Alex, they’ve done boats before!” I hear you scream. Yes the days of the Toybota aren’t lost on me. But do you remember what happened at the end of the episode where they attempt to cross the channel? They end the episode with each of them on one boat working together. It was truly a brilliant episode and I believe that’s not only down to the fact that what they accomplished was very impressive, but also because they did it as a team.
Seamen was so far from being team orientated and this made it feel weird and disjointed.
They Looked Miserable
Seamen was the most dangerous episode yet, and it showed. From the awful weather to Hammond’s infection and James May’s brush with death, there was one thing after another while filming this special and this must have been difficult to push through. Putting on a smile and laughing to the camera must be difficult when you’re in pain and battling with waves to just get to dry land.
It was obvious it wasn’t the most enjoyable episode to film, so when the end finally came, the trio looked defeated. While Jeremy made a quick joke about Top Gear which made us laugh, it ended abruptly and didn’t have the triumph that most episodes end on, possibly due to the fact they were so separated by this point.
I’m Picking Hairs
Please don’t take this as me saying it was a bad episode. There are so many good parts to this episode which I’m not including in this article because I’m focussing on the negatives, and I really am picking hairs.
I’m a massive fan of all the work from Clarkson, Hammond and May and watch (and read) their content avidly. Because of this, I do however feel that this wasn’t their best, and due to the backlash the episode is getting, thought I’d explore why.
I think it’s important to identify and make known what we didn’t like about episodes. Only then will they know how to change things in the future to improve. Of course, the same goes for what we loved about the episode, and we’ll get to that soon.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments, even if you loved the episode. What can they improve on, or was it perfectly suited to your tastes? This article was composed from my own tastes and what I’ve seen on social media from you, the fans, but it’s important to remember that these are all opinions and should be treated as such.
Very disappointed with the Seamans episode. Jeremy, Richard and James are delightful car guys that drive, test and express opinions on various vehicles, all while experiencing certain, funny antics. Piloting a boat through challenging waters is NOT an appeal to me. Stick with the 4 wheel theme or move on.
I have a whole lot of “f u” for this. As an American, I love the Grand Tour. As a boater that travels, I loved it even more. I watched the “Seaman” episodes several times with different friends and enjoyed it and learned different things each time. I only stumbled across this website looking to view it with a different group of friends. It is a shame it is so hard to access now.
I thought this was an sharing episode and I laughed throughout the whole thing. Was surprised when I read that many people didn’t feel the same way. A few buddies if mine also thought it was hilarious…I keep going back to see if the next episode is out
Buck off.. That is an bad review and opinions you have! The series was awesome and I enjoyed it!
Huge fan of top gear, and the grand tour seasons. The episode in Mongolia was truly brilliant. Seeing Jeremy shed a tear on the last episode choked me up.. I was sad it was ending. Very happy to see a season 4 of the grand tour, wasn’t massively impressed by it. I agree with the article written, them not being together changed the dynamic of the show a bit. I don’t know if boats are the best idea for them to go to. More off roading expeditions semi- unscripted, in remote parts of the world is what I think people love seeing. Also you can tell they don’t know much about boats…decredits them. Keep them in the cars!
I watched the special with the usual interest. I think they did the best job given the circumstances. Sure something could have been done better, but this can be said about absolutely everything including the critics reviews. As far as I am concerned, this is the best show on TV, so please keep it going. And if someone is getting bored by it, just quit watching, it’s as simple as that.
Not sure how much I’d trust the “bad” reviews knowing just how much China is committed to online hacking. I’m sure the powers that be are not happy with the exposure of things they are trying to ignore. Like suddenly adding to the China map on their new passports.
I Laughed my ass off.
Was funny as hell, doing what they do best, absurd situations. I loved it!
Boohoo there was no car in the show, pfff.
Keep going guys! I loved it!
I’m a die hard fan of the boys, but it was terrible. For all the reasons you’ve named. disjointed, patronizing, lack of coherency and flow, no focus or overall point, no connection or teamwork/togetherness. Yes, their best work was about S7 of TG, before they became OTT caricatures of themselves, but now there’s simply nothing left. Terrible writing and no creativity. Very sad. As evidenced by going their own way with different shows…..
Where they used to shine was the combination of individual segments brought together by group discussion and jabs interspersed with a group display of insanity involving cars. If they want to do ‘Road Shows’ they might pick up a few pointers from the ‘Road’ movies of Hope and Crosby. Their best bits, off-island, have always been when they picked a destination and stayed somewhat centralized in a specific locale. Even then they might consider reigning themselves in and not be insulting, those moments make even the non-residents cringe. Plenty of fun to be had in new adventures without being an asshole, Clarkson.
I think this is a great direction for the programme. The car shows were good but realistically what percent of people went out and bought million pounds supercars. Its the relationship and camaraderie that makes these 3 unique. The fact they have now actually added an element of education to this series means they will capture additional audience levels.
I think like anything we have to give them time…. this is a major format change for them and they need time to hit their straps. Nothing is instant, remember the first episode of the grand tour? it was pretty poor compared to what they had produced on Top Gear, yet by the end of season two, they had refined it and were going great guns…
Personally I don’t understand what they changed the format SO dramatically but I don’t work in TV production so I cant expect to either!
It was as good as any other. Delivering aged schoolboys dicking around, squandering corporate budgets. It actually had rarely seen element of realism, the look on their faces when they hadn’t slept was genuine.
There’s nothing wrong with this Episode, it was amazing and awesome to watch, you’re just some crybabies who can’t accept that after doing a thing for 17 or more Years it gets boring and maybe they wanna do something else! Get over it, the next Episode is gona be with Cars again
It went from mediocre to awful for me. There was nothing particularly interesting about any of it, and then the taking river boats into the sea? How stupid. And I don’t want to see these guys being just miserable, exhausted, and in pain. Unfortunately, that was the most memorable part.
I’ve enjoyed these guys showmanship and motoring video journalism for decades going back Clarkson’s days on the original Top Gear back in the 1980s. But, truthfully guys, I think it time to seriously consider retirement. It’s best to be remembered for a great original and entertaining format rather than an over thrashed, outdated once was.
I actually thought this was one of the better tours they have done. I love seeing them out of their element, and this definitely did that.
I give it 5 out of 5 stars.
Huh. We enjoyed the episode. I was a bit stunned to see them navigating the China Sea thought; if that was real, it was very irresponsible.
When staying in Vietnam we took the Ferry from Ho Chi Minh to Vung Tau and we crossed the Sea as is needed to get there, aint a biggy, they just made it look more significant.
Terrible episode. No spark, no purpose, no interplay. And their schtick is starting to show its age. I understand the reasoning behind getting rid of the studio format and I still feel it was a mistake. The news segment on the old Top Gear was one of the most consistently enjoyable parts of the show. The Christmas episode on GT where they donned funny sweaters, tried self-propelled skates, and Segue vehicles equipped with tablets video-conferencing with Bob Geldof had me holding my sides in laughter. This had none of that.
I blame the producers for making some very poor decisions up front:
1) Not checking the weather in Cambodia/Vietnam.
2) Not having a backup plan in case nature didn’t cooperate.
3) Not having a backup for their backup plan.
They could have just as easily done a motorbike run along the Mekong, or dune buggies, etc… Add in some hang gliding, or riding burros, or maybe just have the guys source their own non-car transport from point A to point B. Instead, someone got locked onto the “Seamen” title and tried to fill in the huge gaps presented by the conditions.
I could have also done with skipping the entire watch shopping/deodorant extravaganza and concentrated more on them having to camp along the river and maybe pull shenanigans on one another like they did in the trailer park. Or spend longer on Jeremy making pho, a very unexpected point I’d like to have seen more of.
Overall, it seemed like the show never quite fit into it’s own shoes. Like trying to fit a round pillow into a triangular hole and watching it slowly pull itself out over and over again.
The only thing that this episode had in common with other Grand Tour episodes was May acting like a woman. I’ve never seen someone complain so much about trivial things.
Yet here you are complaining about a trival thing.
There were definitely some laughs, but I wasn’t thrilled with the episode overall. My biggest issue was that they didn’t seem to care about their boats at all. When they went shopping to make themselves more comfortable I expected to see them showing off their redecorated cabins, or whatever other alterations, like they do in almost every other special. It wasn’t about boats vs cars vs bikes – by the end of any special they usually have strong feelings about their chosen transport, love it or hate it. This episode – nothing.
There seems a corporate push to squeeze the life out of our beloved entertainers. That unless they are pushed to the brink of uncertainty and danger, entertainment suffers. This is all wrong of course and they’ve mucked it to the point it seems the three have lost interest.
Yes, you are eight, I was looking for something good as usual but this time I felt its pooring even if the idea is good for first time you see the triler, it is lost episod, no challenge not exciting, it is just pooring.
Seamen is about right for these three winners.
So people complain when it’s scripted and complain when it’s not, right.
The problem I feel is shout McHamster, I honestly thought they called him Hamster because he hammed it up.
Its like he he uinely believes the
His amateur dramatic style slapstick is funny and unnoticeable. In order to fix what’s been broken since around 2012 onwards, Clarkson has to take back the absolute lead frontman and shut this immature Oliver loving crap down.
Season 4 episode 1 was very entertaining. Fans of those three knuckleheads love them because they are fun as individuals and absurdly fun when they’re together. Fans enjoyed the episode and self proclaimed expert critics didn’t because they suck. Seamen was very enjoyable.
The episode was simply quite boring
I would say it was Clarksons hammering of Pol Pot while wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt. Me thinks Jezza needs a history lesson. Wearing a Che shirt is no different than wearing a Pol, Stalin, or a swastika shirt. Same control over people, execute opposition, use fear and power to silence the people. Love the guys, but that was shitty wardrobe.
I loved the episode! As for all the detractors. The golden goose didn’t always lay golden eggs….. it had to take shit every once in a while.
I am very disappointed to get a climate change lesson from Grand Tour. I suspect Amazon had a hand in that. This came very close to making me do the unthinkable; turn off TGT. If anything will lose me as a viewer, it will be something like this. Man made global warming is a hoax. In my line of work I’ve had the opportunity to talk to real, bona fide climate scientists. None believe man is affecting the climate. It is a globalist scheme to gain power and control more people. Please don’t go the politically correct route with the show.
Jeremy’s comment about China diverting the river water while building a dam is probably a more accurate reflection of conditions than “climate change”…
Jeremy’s comment on how China was diverting the river waters while building a dam probably is the most accurate assessment on the conditions, rather than “climate change”…
The Grand Tour was dead in the water even before it was launched. Top Gear fell off over 10 years ago. The jokes and the boorish, obtuse, reactionary attitudes of the ageing presenters were only fit for the most basic of Babyboomer.
This format should have been put out of its misery 15 years ago. It’s become an embarrassment.
If it was boring 15 years ago, why are you still watching it?
Agreed they should have been together more but it keeps becoming more evident that they truly don’t like each other and it is a shame because they are some of the best entertainment of the age no one is funnier when they want to be ,I just hope it isn’t a sign the end is coming
Excellent and balanced critique / observations!
Surely accidents and serious ones have sadly happened, but please folks, let’s not push our mortal luck!! Nothing would make us all as miserable as losing one of these guys or any of their crew in filming this fun.
It’s a miracle they haven’t been in a serious every day collision on the scary crazy roads they have driven on in the hours they have done that in. Keep it going, not ending.
I’m in the “supremely disappointed” camp, and I think you pretty much nailed the reasons. You addressed my original thought when watching it, which was that it barely had the 3 of them together. In other specials, even when in separate cars, they’re generally near each other, in constant communication, and get out of the cars to help (or harm) one another regularly. Not the case in this episode. The “lack of purpose” is another excellent point. I don’t expect them to ever top the Bolivia special, but even the short TGT “Feed the World” special was fantastic, and the “goal” they set went a long way toward adding interest.
I don’t know what Andy Wilman was thinking when he put this one together. (Then again, I don’t know what anyone was thinking when they killed off the studio segments in favor of 2 specials*. I’d much prefer the usual 1 special+the regular episodes. This special was truly the beginning of the end.)
*I think Amazon was a big influence here, with their data supposedly suggesting most people are fast-forwarding through the studio segments. Maybe I’m just an uber-fan, but I find this extremely hard to believe.
I enjoyed the episode, though I agree it wasn’t the most interesting. I do like the long format. However, what does bug me and what I am seeing more of is their childish antics. Clarkson in particular, acts like a young frat boy who’s never gotten in trouble or had to be responsible for his actions. May and Hamilton are better, but Clarkson comes across as just disrespectful to the people he’s interacting with. That’s the only thing that disappoints me with the GT.
I totally agree with your article! The Team’s best episodes have always been when the adventure felt naturally lighthearted and they were enjoying each other’s company. Is there a rift between the presenters? It has felt to me for a while now that the presenters have drifted apart both figuratively and literally.
It was absolute dribble.
They either need to employ new writers from the BBC or give up if that’s all they can muster..I’m a die hard fan of these guys but even I fell asleep watching this.I cannot remember even having a slight smirk never mind a giggle .
I don’t think the fact that cars were absent really affected anything at all. It was still the boys just messing around, which is what we all love the most. The real problem was that there really wasn’t a…point to their trip? What was the reason for it? Usually when they do these challenges there’s at least a challenge…even if it’s just “Andy Wilman hates boats and doesn’t think you can take one from a to b…prove him wrong” or “Richard Hammond hates boats, therefore we’re going from a to b…in boats.” This time there was nothing, it was just a random drive from random point a to random point b…without much reason as to why. Also, generally they do various challenges throughout the trip that spice it up a bit, this time…nothing. It was just a boat trip from a to b. It just felt kind of…pointless I guess? Not that I didn’t enjoy it. It just ended, and I couldn’t help but thinking “that’s it? What was…the point of that?”
I couldn’t agree more with everything you said. Thank you for articulating the strange feeling I was left with by the end of the episode.
I agree,May looked like he’d rather be elsewhere,it’s the banter between all three I love but it was very thin on the ground
I thought “Seamen” was a pretty good episode. The only negative for me was the dead bird in the egg. I liked Clarkson’s history lessons along the way.
The dead bird in the egg is balut, its a local delicay