For many folks, the Top Gear and The Grand Tour trio of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond are the last word in automotive content and humor. For me, it has been the trio that my husband has insisted upon making me watch (ugh) while also telling me I should be more like Jeremy Clarkson (no). However, I regret to inform everyone that The Grand Tour’s new special about French cars, “Carnage à Trois,” is very good.
French cars have historically been an enigma, and the special opens with Clarkson posing the question the crew would aim to answer in the episode: “What’s the matter with the French?” It is an admirable goal to undertake in a single special, and it was extremely good.
That’s because it combined many of my favorite things: France, making fun of the French, awful cars, and a delightful sense of humor that culminates in launching a Citroën C3 Pluriel over the Cliffs of Dover and back to its homeland.
My husband pointed out that a large part of this episode felt scripted, but I thought it was well done. There’s one moment where Richard Hammond gets behind the wheel of a propeller-powered car and the entire crew runs off behind a fence, that was particularly egregious, but it was still an exceptional moment of humor — especially since it’s compounded by Hammond with several later crashes. There’s another where Clarkson’s car is shown rolling down a hill overlaid with his grunts, as if he’s behind the wheel when it’s quite clear he’s not. But it’s a slapstick-style comedy that works quite well for these three.
A large part of this episode focuses on the fact that the trio posit French cars are designed to be destroyed. No one in France ever sells their cars; they drive them until they need to be scrapped, since everyone just bumps into each other. This is something Hammond illustrates by parallel parking a car in between two cars that he needs to shove out of the way with his bumpers and that May illustrates by sledge-hammering some space into his trunk to fit around a dishwasher.
The trio also illustrates the durability of these French cars by off-roading three family vehicles. Arguably the highlight of the episode comes as Hammond tries to overtake his compatriots on this rutted, one-lane path, crashing into both of them and ultimately tipping his own car onto the side. Somehow, the massive catapult only serves as the cherry on top of an already-excellent cake.
The special is available on Amazon Prime, and it’s worth enjoying with a holiday beverage of your choice — even if this trio is normally not your cup of tea.