Con man and friends is in its third season, following more hijinks with twists and turns you'll never see coming. When the series first popped up on Amazon Prime in 2017, I was blown away by its inventiveness. There was a spark in the show that never failed to disappoint, I knew I would always be entertained. From the great performance by Giovanni Ribisi, in the lead role, to tight storytelling - it had everything I wanted. The show then proceeded to stumble in its second season, losing a large amount of the magic that made it special. It still had glimmers of greatness but never operated on that level for long. Cut to May 10th and the debut of season 3, where I honestly wondered whether or not I would finally get a sequel to the first season.
Magic tricks are only entertaining in three different instances: showing how the trick works, seeing a trick you've never seen before, or watching one done very well. Sneaky Pete is essentially a less flashy, more high stakes magic show. The main character performs magic tricks to get what he wants, but obstacles like acquiring props and helpers are where the meat of the show lies. What made the first season compelling, was that it was a very intimate experience; you watched the acts come together and waited for the next trick to be performed. The second season suffered from escalation, trying to make every trick bigger and the process of performing it more complicated. Season 3 tries to refocus the show to be smaller again, giving the audience a chance to get used to new characters and say unofficial goodbyes to old ones.
This approach allows the show to restructure itself by grouping characters together for blocks of episodes, creating multiple storylines to follow. Usually, this is done so a story can cram more events in front of the audiences' eyeballs and see how everyone comes together. This technique is useless for this season because there are really only two things happening at any given time. The two storylines that matter are used to set up all of the plot points that will transpire by setting goals. There are distinct things that characters are trying to achieve by the finale, and the whole season is trying to get them there. As a setup, this is fine, but the show doesn't deliver one of those two goals. Instead, it creates an arbitrary reason for it not to happen an episode and a half before the end. This speaks to a wider problem in which the show has no idea what to do.
There is a complete lack of logic in the show. It plagues characters and events that happen, all created to make things more complicated and convenient. Need the task to be harder, how about adding an extra layer of difficulty just to make the show more exciting? Need a character to do something crazy, how about a convenient way to wrap it all up? The show is constantly creating new ways for things to happen which create whole new branches that never get resolved. It becomes borderline lazy in the last few episodes where even the production quality takes a hit. Sound effects, cuts, and character logic all take a back seat so the show can finish. It was a chore to hit the last episode and everything good had disappeared by then.
What makes this decline in quality so painful is that for two episodes, I felt like the show might return to greatness. I understood that a runway was needed to get things moving, so when the middle of episode 4 was making me excited to keep watching, I had my hopes lifted. I was sad to find out that by the end of episode 5 that it was the only a stint of pleasure I would get. There is nothing really egregious about episodes 1-7, but when my spirits were lifted, the rest seemed to come crashing down on me. It's actually really interesting how polar opposite the beginning of the season is versus the ending. While production quality and plot were at their lowest at the end, it might have been at its highest in the first couple of episodes. There was a concerted effort to make the show more cinematic with all of the extra trimmings that were added. Drone shots that were never in the show before and extravagant crane moves were added to make you think the show was fancier than it ever was.
The kicker to all of this was that last year I predicted major changes in the story. On Twitter, I voiced my concern with Season 2 along with how the show would drag the characters to California as a way to get all of them back together. I can't tell you how good it felt to be right after someone said I would be wrong. It was easily the best part of the show, which is sad.
It feels weird recommending this show to anyone. I would definitely say that the first season is worth your time but would caution against jumping in at any other point. If you have only seen the first season, coming back for season 3 is dumb. If you finished the second and want more, go ahead, but it's not really necessary. In concept, I still really like the show, its characters, and the stories it could still tell, but I can't get past the fact that I might just be wasting my time.
For anyone that's been following the show since the beginning, it has been a three-year endeavor. The Grand Tour's quality has stayed consistent but its content has seen some changeups. From getting rid of celebrity guest appearances to changing the test driver for The Eboladrome, the show continually finds ways to keep fresh. So when everyone thought that this was the last season, it was a little bittersweet. Some of the most interesting content has come from Season 3 and I feel like the show had finally found its voice.
Truly free from Top Gear's shackles, The Grand Tour is unique but is also a love letter to the trio's 17 years together. It ditches entire segments and even dedicates whole episodes to one aspect of the show; it finally stands on its own.
Early on in the season, there was a lack of flashy editing that I was used to seeing in the seasons prior. There was concerted effort to present a story, it was like the show was saying, "We are going to make you interested in what is being shown, not how it's being shown". This made the programming more thoughtful and in turn, became more interesting. As a viewer, comedy was expected, cars a given, and an overall fun time was had.
Season 3 is home to really great segments that have taken over. There were large documentary-style films and more historical look backs at motoring in general. These nostalgia trips were well presented and didn't detract from the fun the show is known for. They were also quite respectful, detailing monumental moments in motoring with sincerity. And when that wasn't happening, the guys would be yelling and laughing at each other.
Yes, the constant bickering and jibbing is not lost on the show. There is still plenty of footage of the trio laughing at each other, yelling, and driving. This season does see a more concerted effort to show off more exotic locations in the form of road trips and cross country bouts. One of the best episodes comes in the form of the crew being stuck in the middle of the desert where they have to build a car and are hundreds of miles away from the nearest town.
So I'm excited to see what season 4 can bring. How will the show be changed with its biggest shakeup yet? Losing the audience part of the show, meaning no more conversation street and no more car lap times. Its definitely going to take some time to get used to but hopefully, there will be a couple of seasons to settle into the new groove. The Grand Tour is one of the best shows on television because it has a great cast at its heart, an enormous budget to play around with, and will always manage to put a smile on your face.