TOP GEAR Versus GRAND TOUR: I’m Conflicted

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I feel so conflicted. For over a year I had accepted the idea that Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond were gone from TOP GEAR forever and I would have to get used to a new set of unseasoned presenters. The new group were rough on the corners, but BBC seemed to be working things out.

I watched the first new season (they call it a series in Britain) and it was a flop, so BBC retooled it, retaining three  of the presenters and jettisoning Chris Evans. This season there are just three regular presenters: Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris, and Rory Reid, with the occasional reappearance of race car driver Sabine Schmitz. They have also retooled the retool of the reasonably priced car time trial to the reasonably fast rally time trial back to the reasonably fast celebrity time trial, also choosing now to expand the role of the celebrity in discussing cars.

It was just beginning to look like this might work after all. And then my wife accidentally got an Amazon Prime membership and I watched GRAND TOUR.

Now, TOP GEAR is definitely better than it was with loud and pushy Chris Evans. They do talk about cars and go on wild adventures, as did their predecessors. There’s no apparent lead presenter as when Jeremy Clarkson ran the show, but Matt LeBlanc often seems like the head guy, although he sometimes comes of as oafish and naive in the world in a way a Brit wouldn’t. There is plenty of conflict between the presents, as there was with the original three, but it often comes off as forced or, sometimes, real – in the sense that they don’t get along, unlike Clarkson, May, and Hammond, who while they often had spats still highly bonded. LeBlanc, Harris, and Reid don’t seem to bond. And LeBlanc and Harris get most of the air time and cool cars to drive, while Reid seems an after thought on the show. The original presenters mostly shared the air time. They were a team.

Never was this more apparent when I watched GRAND TOUR. The old team still had the magic. I still think Clarkson can be a boorish oaf, which is what got him into trouble in the first place. But he knows how to make car television fun and interesting. He was the genius behind TOP GEAR, and he has continued it into GRAND TOUR. This show manages to bring in top car brands and present them in a thoughtful, engaging way. They go on wild adventures that make you laugh and laugh and laugh again. The presenters are as much a reason to watch as the cars, as they get on each other’s case, teasing and torturing each other just for the fun of it. And they go to some of the most amazing places. All with that cheeky, understated British humor. Contrast that with TOP GEAR, where they get some big car brands, go to some interesting places, and just two of the presenters go after each other, in an awkward way.

I’ll give you that the new team of presenters have hardly had time to bond. I like LeBlanc. He’s a smooth talker, a likable guy, has a fun sense of humor, and he knows how to have fun with a car. Harris seems to know as much about cars as anyone, and he’s fun to watch put a car through its paces. Reid is likable, too, if they would just give him a chance to do something. Their adventures are interesting, but they lack sophistication. And they don’t spend enough time on them nor are they as expansive or complex as the originals. The trouble is, there is no real sense of team there.

So, I’m conflicted. The problem is, I get BBC America on cable so it doesn’t cost me anything extra to watch TOP GEAR. I have to pay extra for Amazon Prime to watch GRAND TOUR. I really want to like TOP GEAR, but dang, I do prefer watching Clarkson, May, and Hammond present the magic of the automobile and driving them in the most amazing places in the world. Part of the meaning behind their title is that rather than being stuck in a British shire to present the show, GRAND TOUR hosts the show in a different place in the world each week. And while TOP GEAR does a measly seven episodes a season, GRAND TOUR does a dozen! Oh, my. Is there really a choice?

If you love cars. If you love watching car shows. If you love watching cars being presented in a way you can understand and seeing them driven as they are meant to be driven and showcased in exotic locations. Well, the gold standard has to be GRAND TOUR, boorish oaf lead presenter or not. I have to admit, all those naysayers who refused to watch the retooled TOP GEAR were right to stick by the old gents.

DESIGNATED SURVIVOR Sneak Peek: New Surprises Arise

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President Kirkman seems to roll from one crisis into another in DESIGNATED SURVIVOR. Tonight, just when he thinks he has things under control, new surprises arise.

Last week, as FBI Agent Hannah Wells began to unravel some of the mystery behind the Capitol Building bombing and the part the now dead Vice President MacLeish played in it, new questions emerged. President Kirkman asked her to continue to pursue the case, while the enemies behind the attack learned that Wells was longer in detention and free to act against their plans. Meanwhile, Chief of Staff Aaron Shore was forced to admit he was the source behind a leak into the story that MacLeish had made the controversial shoot-to-kill order, taking out the gunman who had attempted to assassinate President Kirkman. As a result, Kirkman ordered Shore to take some time off and come back to the job rested, an order Shore didn’t take well. In his absence, Kirkman made Adviser Emily Rhodes acting chief of staff. First Lady Alex Kirkman decided it was time to remove the family from their dangerous surroundings, and despite his misgivings, the president agreed, sending Alex and their two children to Camp David to live. And, finally, Kirkman has been having problems filling cabinet positions, so Emily suggested he consult with former President Moss for help.

And this brings us to this week’s episode. President Kirkman turns to an unlikely ally for help when turmoil erupts in an African country, and gets a brutally honest assessment from former President Moss. He confronts a key suspect in the Capitol bombing as Well’s investigation takes a new turn. And Emily Rhodes and Aaron Shore sort out their new roles in the administration. Things don’t get any easier for the Kirkman Administration.

View the sneak peek below and tune in to DESIGNATED SURVIVOR tonight (March 29) at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on ABC (U.S.) and CTV (Canada).

DESIGNATED SURVIVOR Sneak Peek: Damage Control

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The spring season of DESIGNATED SURVIVOR, just a couple of episodes old, has already taken some explosive turns.

We saw the head of the FBI, Jason Atwood, who claimed responsibility for the Capitol Building bombing to keep his kidnapped son safe, finally found his son dead despite assurances he would be kept alive. We saw FBI agent Hannah Wells, who took on the burden of tracking down the web of leads in the investigation, slammed, bammed, jailed, and just as she was about to arrest Vice President MacLeish for conspiracy, thwarted and then was discovered by the conspirators to be out of jail and an imminent threat.

Then there’s the White House staff. Press Secretary Seth Wright, continually under pressure from surprises, has tried to keep the nation informed while not falling into chaos. Chief of Staff Aaron Shore has tried to help run the Oval Office but has found himself under suspicion in the conspiracy. And Emily Rhodes has turned out to be the only top adviser President Kirkman can trust, who must now keep secrets even from Shore until the full scope of the conspiracy is discovered. Meanwhile, President Kirkman has found rival Speaker Kimble Hookstraten is his one political ally, while he is told by Secret Service to tighten his circle of confidence, not sharing what he knows even with his wife.

Oh! And last week, when Agent Wells caught Vice President MacLeish with compromising evidence in the conspiracy, his wife shot him dead and took her own life. Which brings us to this week: Classified information is let loose by an investigative journalist during a press briefing, putting Seth Wright once more under fire to contain damage from a leak. Agent Wells, meanwhile, digs up new information linking the Vice President to the conspiracy.

Will Kirkman’s presidency ever normalize?

See the preview clip below and watch DESIGNATED SURVIVOR tonight (March 22) at 10:00 p.m. on ABC (U.S.) and CTV (Canada).

MYTHBUSTERS THE SEARCH: Looking Back Before the Finale

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“Do you miss me yet?” MYTHBUSTERS fans said goodbye to their favorite science reality TV show back in March 2016, and as the Science Channel on cable TV and satellite picked up the franchise from the Discovery Channel, they could sense the demand to keep the fun going. So they came up with a way to do that.

The show’s demise wasn’t that there weren’t plenty of myths to bust and science to test. Fans loved the basis behind the series. But when the show’s producers eliminated three of its most likable presenters (Kari Byron, Tory Belleci, and Grant Imahara), they lost a big chunk of their fan base. Although fans still loved main hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, the show just wasn’t the same without the Kari, Tory, and Grant. And when the series did a revamp with just Adam and Jamie, amped up with new graphics and a heftier focus on the builds and the science, it just wasn’t the same good ol’ MYTHBUSTERS. And so, the program fell away the way most successful series peter out in the end.

To try to bring back the MYTHBUSTERS shine, Science Channel came up with MYTHBUSTERS THE SEARCH, a competition to find the next generation of hosts. Tonight is the finale episode.

THE SEARCH uses the same format as most reality TV competitions. Several people show up to be the final winner (in this case, winners), accomplishing various goals to make it through to the next round. At the end of each episode one contestant is usually (although not always) eliminated. After seven episodes, THE SEARCH has gone from ten competitors down to four. Remaining tonight are Martin Pepper, Jonathan Lung, Brian Louden, and Tamara Robertson, after the elimination of Tracy Fanara, Jason Kerestes, Sarah Petkus, Ben Nowack, Chris Hackett, and Allen Pan. Eliminations often occurred because individuals simply didn’t have build skills, or because they didn’t contribute to the team effort, or their contribution led to the team fail. In one instance, the individual, as was often the case, went off to do his own thing, leaving the team to manage the rest of the build on their own.

Each episode featured a team build and an individual effort, looking for build skills, science smarts, and on-camera charisma. They looked at such myths and science tests as improvising a weapon from junk in a junk yard, building an ejector seat in a spy car, painting walls with explosives, and shooting blind. Thus, much of their tests were rehashes of old MYTHBUSTERS themes. In tonight’s finale, they will hearken back to water heaters and duct tape to launch Buster on heated-water power and to try to stay afloat on taped up floats. How creative…

I think what irks me most is the lack of originality in the myths the producers choose to test. What I have liked the best has been watching the contestants try to think through the problems and build solutions. The problem is, the show hasn’t really had the time to explore as much of the science as they have to show the team dynamics and the misfires that have led to people being dismissed from the competition. Well, this is a reality contest show after all.

THE SEARCH’s host is Kyle Hill, a podcaster and MYTHBUSTERS superfan. While he makes an amiable host, he hardly adds to the science or the builds, although he is expected to work with each episode’s special guest and the crew to decide who gets the week’s “coveted MVP trophy” for work well done and who gets booted from the competition. And I wonder if he will move on to the new show, if a new show survives this competition. He, at least, has some personality.

As I said, tonight is the finale, which promos say “goes out with a bang.” I don’t know. Each week that I have watched, I am left feeling a bit meh. Here’s the problem. MYTHBUSTERS started out with Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, who though they weren’t superstars or experienced showmen at the time, had something special that caught the audience’s attention. Adam’s enthusiasm and good humor, Jamie’s curmudgeon stoicism yet devotion to science and common sense made a great team. Then they added the build team of Kari, Tory, and Grant, soon giving them their own focus on the show. They had a great camaraderie, and they were fun to watch. Everyone was fun to watch. This new group — not so much.

The problem as I see it is, these new competitors are definitely MYTHBUSTERS fans. They know science, they have build skills, but they lack charisma. And they have no camaraderie. That they can build on, of course. But none of them “sparkle” on camera like the originals did. None of them shows the passion for science and process that the originals had. They just show the geekiness of playing at MYTHBUSTERS. As Allen Pan said after being eliminated from the competition, “This has been the best summer camp ever.” But summer camp doesn’t lead to a job.

So the question for viewers is, “Do you miss me yet” enough to watch whoever wins this competition, week after week, should MYTHBUSTERS THE SEARCH become MYTHBUSTERS the renewed series? And will the producers be original enough to ramp up the myths and science to make the show interesting enough to watch? For some, this final episode just may be their last MYTHBUSTERS.

Watch the MYTHBUSTERS THE SEARCH finale tonight (February 25) at 9:00 p.m. ET (6:00 p.m. PT), repeated at midnight ET (9:00 p.m. PT) on the Science Channel. According to their Twitter account, “We will be announcing the winner(s) live on air…”

THE BIG BANG THEORY Sneak Peek: Daddy’s Spoiled Child

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BREAKING: Raj Koothrappali no longer wants to be daddy’s spoiled child. Tonight on THE BIG BANG THEORY, we will see how that works out.

The latest joke on THE BIG BANG THEORY has been Raj’s dispute with his father over how much of his father’s money he has been spending, his father calling Raj his spoiled sixth child. So last week, Raj said he would no longer take his father’s money. Cue daddy’s joy.

Raj’s father had been paying for Raj’s rent, car, and credit card payments, but Raj had no idea for how much. The question became, will Raj’s income cover those expenses? This week, Sheldon, Howard, and Leonard go over Raj’s bills to help him rein in his expenses, with Raj appointing “controlling sociopath” Sheldon as his business manager to help him get out of debt. Meanwhile, Comic-Con is coming up and Raj realizes that to afford to attend the big event he may have to sacrifice some of his toys, selling them to Stuart’s comics shop. Seems Penny may join the trek to Comic-Con, too, with Leonard reluctantly agreeing. You may remember that Leonard joined Penny at a local Comic-Con when her movie had a booth, to Leonard’s chagrin. Cue the fun.

Watch the preview clips below and watch THE BIG BANG THEORY tonight (February 23) at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on CBS (U.S.) and CTV (Canada).

THE BIG BANG THEORY Sneak Peak: Some Fresh Air

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We seem to have revisited a lot of the same territory lately on THE BIG BANG THEORY. Howard and Bernadette’s pregnancy, birthing, and parenting issues? Check! Raj and Stuart as parenting support? Check! Leonard and Penny settling a little too comfortably into their marriage? Check! What THE BIG BANG THEORY needs is some fresh air. And luckily, it’s getting some tonight. Check!

First up, socially clueless Sheldon is geeked to discover MIT has invented a contraption that can help people read other peoples’ emotions and gives it a beta test — it even seems to work. Then Penny has some troubling news: Her brother is coming to town, and Leonard isn’t exactly excited. Meanwhile, Raj wants to step up his social game, by getting some dating advice from his ex-girlfriends. Back to fun episodes? Check!

See the video clips below and watch THE BIG BANG THEORY tonight (February 2) at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on CBS (U.S.) and CTV (Canada).

THE BIG BANG THEORY Sneak Peek: Domestic Fronts

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There are new developments on the domestic front on tonight’s new episode of THE BIG BANG THEORY.

What could be bothering Penny? It seems she thinks the magic has petered out of their marriage. Leonard doesn’t bring her flowers anymore, he no longer wears pants in the house, and he doesn’t seem to show much interest in her concerns. That does it! Penny invites Amy to join her in a spa weekend instead of Leonard, leaving him with Sheldon, who has developed a sudden curiosity in other people’s lives.

Across town, the Wolowitzes have a squeaky floorboard in the baby’s room and Raj stops by to help Howard fix it. Now, what could go wrong when two science geeks try to tackle a domestic do-it-yourself job?

See our preview clips below and watch THE BIG BANG THEORY tonight (January 19) at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on CBS (U.S.) and CTV (Canada).

BLINDSPOT Sneak Peek: Trusting Jane with Roman

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It’s new territory on BLINDSPOT, as Sandstorm proceeds with its mysterious plot and Jane Doe tries to enlist her brother to help the FBI stop them.

This second half of the season has seen a new relationship been Jane and her brother, Roman. At the end of the fall season Jane rescued Roman from Sandtorm and the dominance of their mother, Shepherd, at the last moment injecting him with the same serum that erased her memories. Then he was brought to the FBI special team’s headquarters, where Jane and the team have attempted to help him recover helpful bits of his memory. The Director of the FBI has wanted to turn Roman over to the CIA for interrogation to force out his memory as time ticks away on Shepherd’s plans to use the device to bring the country to its knees, but Jane, NSA Assistant Director Naz, and FBI Assistant Director Weller have forestalled it. New into the mix is a video discovered on Roman’s mobile phone of previously unseen tattoos Sandstorm were originally testing on Jane’s body, which last week led to the solving of a new mystery in identifying Sandstorm’s plans.

Jane has been wanting to bring Roman into the field with her in the hope that it will help unleash more of his memories, as it did with her. And she hopes it will encourage memories of Shepherd’s plans. The FBI has been reluctant to let Roman loose outside of its control, but last week Roman inadvertently helped the team decode one of the new tattoos and it becomes important again this week, leading the team to consider sending Roman into the field with Jane to help the FBI deal with a dangerous biker gang now in the city. Roman has been manipulative in the past and a danger to Jane — is Weller’s concern over sending the two out alone together warranted?

See the clips below and tune in to BLINDSPOT tonight (January 18) at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on NBC (U.S.) and CTV (Canada).

THE BIG BANG THEORY Sneak Peek: Back From the Holidays

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New episodes of our favorite shows are finally back. That includes THE BIG BANG THEORY, where we find the old gang getting back together after the holidays.

Sheldon and Amy return from a trip to Texas, where they report a good time was not had by all — maybe by no one. And just in time for Sheldon to find Leonard and Penny clearing away their holiday decorations a whole week after Christmas. For shame!

Meanwhile, Howard and Bernadette arrive a bit late because life with a new baby is much more complicated than even life with a group of immature nerds. Raj and Stuart aren’t far behind.

See our preview below and watch THE BIG BANG THEORY tonight (January 5) at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on CBS (U.S.) and CTV (Canada).

THE BIG BANG THEORY Sneak Peek: And Baby Makes Nine?

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One story arc reaches its zenith tonight on THE BIG BANG THEORY, while another one stutters along.

It appears the big night finally arrives for the Wolowitzes. Tonight Howard and Bernadette gather the nerd squad at the hospital to welcome their new baby. While waiting for Howard and Bernadette’s big event, the supportive gang examines how much they’ve grown over the years — all except Raj and Stuart, who feel left in the wake by everyone else’s successes. Of course, last week they did get to battle it out over which was more supportive during Bernadette’s pregnancy. Well, it’s something.

It’s also Amy’s birthday, and Sheldon and Amy celebrate as only Sheldon and Amy can. A couple of weeks ago, Sheldon tried to spring a surprise brunch on Amy that didn’t go so well. What magic could he be planning tonight?

Enjoy the last new episode before the holidays. Watch the clips below and tun in to THE BIG BANG THEORY tonight (December 15) at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on CBS (U.S.) and CTV (Canada).