“Sexual content, foul language, violence.” Just another day at the office for three middle-aged car journalists (and a warning from Amazon Prime about this 15-rated series). And with five years since their acrimonious split from the BBC brought them bigger budgets and not a glance in the rear mirror, the format still just about works. You need to have at least a touch of the petrolhead to commit to what are now feature-length films: this Christmas, weigh carefully whether its James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life or Clarkson, May and Hammond in a patrol boat down the Mekong Delta.
This series opens with the ‘boys’ abandoning cars for the first time to attempt a navigation from Cambodia to the coast of Vietnam. Their vessels, as often happens with dogs, curiously resemble themselves: Richard Hammond in a white speedboat called Razzle Dazzle; James May in a sedate Venetian pleasure boat; and Jeremy Clarkson in a reconstructed PBR (patrol boat, riverine). That’s right, the vessel he chooses to tour the backwaters of Vietnam is the same used by the US Army in the calamitous Vietnam War (see Ken Burns’ masterful documentary on the subject). Subsequent episodes see them testing the claim that a Citroen 2CV’s suspension is so good that it can be dropped from 500 feet; taking a troop of 70s American muscle cars round Scotland (in, yes, ‘Lochdown’), and crossing Réunion Island and Madagascar in an episode whose title is not fit for publication.
Reviewing the latest special from the trio, Carnage a Trois, The Daily Telegraph’s Michael Hogan merrily awards four stars, wrily comparing them to “three wise men, bearing gifts, traversing afar. The petrolhead patriarchy… seemed happier in each other’s company than they have in a long time. The pièce de résistance? Building a 60ft, 32-tonne trébuchet on the white cliffs of Dover to fire the much-maligned Citroën Pluriel across the Channel, back from whence it came.” Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian, meanwhile, can only spare two stars, deploring their “leaving carnage – and surely a spike in support for Scottish independence – in their wake”. Katherine Stinson on Distractify.com defends the show: “it’s really not meant to be a mockery of said culture. Rather, it’s a funny tribute… how aptly that phrasing works for why Jeremy, James, and Richard still work so well together after all these years.”
First shown November 2016.