Did you know there are hippos in Colombia? Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me start over: The Grand Tour, Amazon Prime’s not-Top Gear, returned for its third season this month, and after airing a single normal episode, the series jumped right into a 2-part special… set in Colombia. And it was kind of great? Like, not only is this whole not-Top Gear venture really coming into its own this season, but this special showed something I never really expected to see from hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May:
Maturity and restraint.
Well, relatively speaking. I mean, I don’t want to set your expectations too high, considering we’re still talking about the ultimate boys-and-their-toys car show, but now that Hammond is almost 50 and the other two are edging in on 60 (good lord, how is Clarkson not even 60 yet?!), I guess it’s about time they grew up a smidge. Sure, they still draw penises on each other’s cars as a prank, but they get much more upset when someone slaps on a “Vote Brexit” sticker instead. They’ve even toned down their homophobia! When Clarkson arrives in Colombia with his vehicle of choice, a Jeep Wrangler, his co-hosts immediately point out that it’s been voted amongst the top 10 favorite Gay and Lesbian cars (per a non-scientific poll, naturally). AND I CRINGED. I anticipated 2 solid hours of ham-fisted “ewww, gay” jokes or something. But instead, Hammond and May just… kept telling Clarkson how proud they are of him, and how much happier he’ll be now that he can just be himself. Yes, technically it’s still a “funny cuz he’s not” gay joke, but it wasn’t mean-spirited at all. It was supportive! It treated coming out as a good, healthy, positive thing! And even Clarkson just laughed along and didn’t protest (at least until they set his car stereo to blare “It’s Raining Men” at top volume).
Would it be better if they’d side-stepped the gay jokes entirely? Sure, absolutely. But even if it’s the bare f*cking minimum, I can’t help but be a little pleased to see that even these three old white dudes can learn how to joke about homosexuality without letting homosexuality itself be the joke. The joke, as always, is just Clarkson.
The concept of the special is that their overlords at Amazon have asked the boys to help them source some original wildlife photography, to use as screensavers. And rather than paying professionals for the rights to license the images, they’ll bring in a couple of under-skilled freelancers to do the job instead. Typical Amazon. So the producers send the crew to Colombia, one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world, and have them play at being wildlife photographers. First, they select their rugged sightseeing vehicles: Clarkson’s Wrangler, May’s adorable little Fiat Panda 4x4, and Hammond’s Chevrolet Silverado pick-up truck. Oh, did I say “pick-up truck”? I mean MONSTER TRUCK, with the giant wheels and flaming paint job. The first hurdle the boys face ends up being how to get Hammond’s truck onto dry land, because it turns out he found a really great deal having it delivered from the U.S. via boat. They even wrapped it up in plastic and shoved it overboard for him, like they were used to doing that sort of thing.
[And that is just the start of the oblique references to cocaine in the special, as the hosts see how far they can get without ever mentioning the drug by name. It only gets more ridiculous.]
Once they select their cameras (Clarkson goes big, Hammond goes complicated, May goes for a tiny little digital cam), they’re ready to start photographing wildlife — and they begin in their urban environment, taking poor shots of pigeons and stray dogs. Finally, the producers give them some firmer targets to hit: They need to get photographs of a spectacled bear, a condor, and… a hippopotamus. The latter of which is not native to South America. But they’ll sort that out when they get there.
The road trip is mostly what you would expect if you’ve ever seen any of their specials before. Their cars are woefully unprepared for the tough roads ahead, the soundtrack is filled with Spanish-language covers of classic rock bangers, and the trio find any excuse to get on each other’s nerves. And speaking of “relative” maturity, at one point May throws a rock at Clarkson’s windshield after their cars bump — though as he notes when they have their big apology later on, at least he wasn’t aiming directly at his friend. Progress! But maybe their age really is catching up to them, because they seem to enjoy the process more than they used to — or maybe it’s the fact that the conceit forces them to stop and appreciate their surroundings (despite how quick they are to shout “BORING!” whenever they have to stop and wait for the wildlife to appear). They find the spectacled bear, which lumbers right up to the Wrangler then proceeds to prove that yes — bears really DO shit in the woods. They nearly get killed by a storm while trying to find a condor, so settle for photographing a dead one instead. There’s even an unsettling interaction with some donkey-fuckers. But the highlight is when they stop to meet some hummingbirds, which they’re able to feed out of the palms of their hands (and mouths). For three dudes who are known for high-octane stunts, it’s a delightfully whimsical scene — and they even comment that it might be one of the best experiences they’ve ever had in their careers.
Who doesn’t love hummingbirds, ammirite?
But the matter of the hippos remains, and when they stop to talk to some locals they find out that the producers haven’t given them such an impossible task after all. In fact, a very rich man named Pablo something-or-other just so happened to smuggle some to his private zoo before he was killed. Because duh, he was Pablo Escobar. But they’re still not mentioning “cocaine” so they play dumb, take the escape road to his compound’s pond, and locate the now-wild group of South American hippos for their final shots. It’s a strangely heartwarming finale to a solid two-parter, and left me Googling “Cocaine Hippos” afterward for the full story, which was definitely a good use of my time.
Mostly, though, I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of the season takes the boys, and if they might finally be turning into men in their old age after all.
Header Image Source: Amazon Prime