I’ve held back from writing about this one for a few weeks to allow the series to bed in. After the first episode I really didn’t know what to make of it – I laughed, but I wasn’t sure yet if I was laughing at Coogan and Brydon, or with them – and it mattered.
The Trip is a six part BBC2 comedy series where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon – or at least, semi-fictionalised versions of themselves, a la Curb Your Enthusiasm – travel the north of England eating in fine restaurants, ostensibly for an article Steve has been commissioned to write for the Observer Magazine. They drive, they talk, they drink, they eat, they behave lecherously towards women – and that’s it. But they would make the most entertaining dinner companions you’ve ever eaten with.
It’s a very simple idea. It is, basically, Coogan and Brydon being themselves with a bit of a meta-narrative thrown in – this version of Steve is trying to crack the US, or find something which will elevate him from the character(s) he’s best known for, doing some womanising along the way since his American girlfriend has dumped him and gone back home. Rob is along for the ride instead, but equally convinced of his own worth as part of the exercise, and in particular as a performer. They jest, they spar, they banter – they even have a ‘Caine-off’ at one point, impersonating the great actor in their different ways, and once you’re into the groove of the show it really is a joy to watch these two modern comic masters at their best. They bounce off each other, improvise, try to make the other corpse, before descending into mutual nitpicking and spiteful little jabs at the other’s career or abilities. I’d happily watch their entire trip unedited, I think.
So now I know the answer to my initial question – you’re doing both, laughing at and with them, often at the same time. It’s a bit like watching the ‘comedians’ among your friends establish running jokes they return to time after time, there’s that inside knowledge that makes you feel part of the scene. Directed by none other than Michael Winterbottom, this is a quality project all round, one which I highly recommend and fervently hope makes a return next year.