There was two things that I loved about the old Top Gear: the chemistry and the charm. Watching the show, it was apparent that Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May were good friends. That was what made it such fun to watch them interact, tease each other, argue, and just generally goof around. And in addition, there was a roughness to the show’s production that amplified this chemistry. The show and its features weren’t too polished, too slick. There were countless moments that stank of “great idea, but not enough time/money to pull it off perfectly.” Moments that screamed, “done on a budget.”
But that was an asset, not a liability. And I only realised that when I began watching The Grand Tour after accidentally agreeing to a free trial of Amazon Prime.
In The 48 Laws of Power, the 46th law is “Never Appear Too Perfect.” The author, Robert Greene, elaborates:
“Appearing better than others is always dangerous, but most dangerous of all is to appear to have no faults or weaknesses. Envy creates silent enemies. It is smart to occasionally display defects, and admit to harmless vices, in order to deflect envy and appear more human and approachable. Only gods and the dead can seem perfect with impunity.”
In essence, what Amazon has done with The Grand Tour is make it too perfect. I suspect that most people, me included, tuned in expecting to see the old chemistry and the endearing imperfections that the three old geezers were known and loved for. Instead, what we got was slick title sequences, elaborate (and clearly expensive) features, a tight script, and in general, a show too well executed to be worthy of any actual affection.
Amazon, by taking the core of Top Gear and making it better, have created something worse. By smoothing the rough edges they’ve created a show too polished to resonate with its audience.
The lesson to take from this is that imperfections add something intangible to the value of a thing. That a defect, far from representing a weakness, can actually be a strength. That something without weakness, without failings, is seen as artificial and treated as such. After all, we humans aren’t perfect, so it’s no wonder we find it hard to relate to something that is flawless.