Like Top Gear before it, Amazon’s The Grand Tour is essentially a comedy program posing as a car show, and as such, the presenters often push up against certain limits in pursuit of a laugh. So it’s not too surprising when something said or done by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May winds up ruffling a few feathers, like, say, when the people of the Falkland Islands took issue with a license plate, or, more recently, when an off-camera incident ostensibly brought the show we’re now discussing about into existence.
In other words, the roads taken by the series sometimes deliver it to unintended destinations. That’s kind of what happens in the season 2 finale ‘Feed the World,’ when Clarkson, Hammond, and May’s blend of entertainingly spiteful camaraderie and automotive competition butts up against a massive concern like world hunger. In ‘Feed the World,’ the three set off with the intent of “saving the world” by coming up with practical, automotie-based solutions to the problem. The episodic challenge, then, becomes one of transporting fish from Mozambique’s capital city of Maputo to the village of Bingo some 200 miles away.
That’s all well and good, and it’s certainly a compelling set up to another of the show’s superbly produced and filmed specials, one that could conceivably compete with memorable Top Gear installments in Bolivia, Vietnam, or even the U.S. — which experienced a different kind of Southern hospitality after Clarkson, Hammond, and May deliberately rankled locals in Alabama with inciting messages written on their cars. The incident became one of the show’s most memorable moments that also underlined the hosts’ knack for provocation as a means of getting a laugh from the audience.
To an extent, ‘Feed the World’ is trying to do something similar, though who it’s goading and why isn’t quite so clear. If you’ve watched the show at all you know that the hosts present themselves as moderately capable of taking up the cause of helping others on a grand scale. And, to its credit, the finale attempts to play into that perception, turning the whole thing into an opportunity to poke fun at not only the comical shallowness of Clarkson, Hammond, and May, who’re “motivated” by the rewards or moral desserts (thanks, The Good Place!) awaiting them, but also what the show intimates is the self-serving nature of celebrity humanitarianism. Essentially, it’s rich white people mocking rich white people with the issue of world hunger caught in the middle. Is that funny? Well, no, not really.
It’s difficult, then, to discern what the point is of watching three grown men botch a charity mission, presumably for the purpose of making fun of celebrities, and, in arguably greater measure, themselves. Taking a shot like that just doesn’t seem relevant. Making light of the humanitarian efforts of Angelina Jolie, David Beckham, or Bono in 2018 is a little like Ricky Gervais mentioning the Betty Ford Clinic when introducing Robert Downey Jr. at the 2011 Golden Globes. It’s years removed from the joke possibly being funny. It's also provocation for the sake of provocation, and the only one laughing is the guy doing the talking.
Perhaps the joke would have worked better had the episode gone to greater lengths to immerse itself in the location and let the locals get in on the act of pointing out the hosts’ hilarious ineptitude. As it is, ‘Feed The World’ doesn’t engage with its setting in any meaningful way. Mozambique and its people are held at arm’s length the entire time and the result is a strange, noticeable disconnect that's markedly different from the Bolivia, Vietnam, or the United States specials. Part of the problem is that traveling in those locations and taking in the culture and landscape was essentially the point of the special, whereas Mozambique is just the backdrop to a task the three are deliberately meant to fail at miserably.
Had The Grand Tour involved the locals of Maputo and Bingo at all it would have significantly improved the episode. One of the funnier bits in the hour sees Clarkson, Hammond, and May attempt to fish in the Indian Ocean, with predictably disastrous results. After Jeremy gets caught in the fishing net and they only manage to haul in a handful of fish after hours of work, the three call it a day. Early the next morning, they’re standing with buckets of fish clearly purchased from the local vendors standing just a few feet away. It’s silly fun and the implication is clear, but so is the lack of interaction. Clarkson, Hammond, and May might as well be on The Grand Tour’s set in England considering there's no on-screen attempt to socialize with or involve the townspeople in any meaningful way outside of propping up a joke. The proverb about teaching a man to fish seems fitting here, as a short scene wherein the fisherman of Maputo give the hosts a crash course on how to properly fish with nets would have improved things greatly.
Thankfully, the finale still packs in plenty of solid laughs, like May getting drenched by the aquarium full of sea water in the back of his Mercedes, or Hammond pulling a Tom Cruise by sacrificing his body (for the second time this season) for the sake of entertainment. This time, rather than flip a very expensive electric supercar, he resorts to repeatedly falling off the oddly resilient motorcycle he purchased at a supermarket. Then there’s the Coal Rolled Kippers Clarkson invents after modifying the exhaust system of his Nissan pickup truck in an effort to “smoke” the fish he’s transporting to Bingo.
The laughs go a long way in making you forget the dicey premise of the episode, but they also go a long way in making you forget the The Grand Tour is filming in Mozambique. The road from Maputo to Bingo offers plenty of obstacles, but little sense that the show is interested in what makes the area unique outside of the issue its tasked with solving. In all, ‘Feed the World’ is a lesser example of the Top Gear/The Grand Tour specials Clarkson, Hammond, and May have undertaken. And on that note, hopefully when The Grand Tour returns it will deliver a special more in line with the show’s title.
The Grand Tour seasons 1 & 2 are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.