Review – Brian Slade
What better way to spend a break than touring a country with a good friend, enjoying the scenery and history while sampling some of its finest restaurants? Well if you like the idea, but find it all a bit too exhausting to do yourself, you could do worse than settle down for a binge watch with Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in The Trip.
‘It’s a kind of tour,’ says Coogan when he initially invites Rob along. It’s actually a job for The Observer, touring the North of England in the opening series, sampling restaurants and writing up reviews, for which Steve will get the 60 of a 60/40 split if Rob agrees to come along. Despite the half-hearted nature of the invite – ‘I’ve asked other people, but they’re too busy,’ – the opportunity is an appealing one to Brydon and he agrees.
The premise of the show is that these two are semi-fictionalised versions of themselves. The journeys to restaurants far and wide treat us to some fine scenery and mouth-watering dishes, especially once the boys go onto the continent in the subsequent three series. But the key to the programme is the enjoyable banter between the pair. They each battle it out performing impressions and telling jokes and stories, while commenting on the merits and pitfalls of one another’s lives and careers.
While the core of the show is a showcase for the talents of the pair, there is also a more melancholic thread running through the episodes, particularly when they get to Spain. By now, Coogan has been ditched by his agent, despite the success of Philomena, and while Brydon is cosily calling his wife at the end of each day, Steve is busy making calls to his contacts and agents and getting increasingly frustrated by their failure to promote his latest works. The Trip to Spain is a step on from Italy, where the Brydon character has allowed himself a night of pleasure away from home and in this series it is he with the angst of his personal life.
By the time the pair reach Greece for the final series, Brydon is very content with life while Coogan is dealing with the failing health of his father. It’s another darker thread that adds a touch of realism to the series.
Brydon admitted when publicising The Trip to Spain on The Graham Norton Show that his stories about David Bowie following him on Twitter just before the singer’s untimely death, and Mick Jagger yelling exchanging impersonations across a landing at a party were completely true. One of the joys of the programme is trying to work out for yourselves which tales are genuine and which are simply finely judged improvisation, and the pair seem to delight in their mockery of one another in the process.
The chemistry between the two is what makes the show so enjoyable. In the wrong hands, constant exchanges of who performs best as Michael Caine, Mick Jagger or Roger Moore could become repetitive, but because they are performed so well and so respectfully, we forgive this pair of fine comedic actors. The blurred lines between fact and fiction follows them throughout the four series, which encompass ten years. Coogan is constantly dismissive of what he sees as the ‘light entertainment’ nature of Brydon’s comedic cv, while Brydon is constantly bursting the pomposity of Coogan when he consistently mentions his Oscar success with Philomena and his array of BAFTAs. When the first series aired, Brian Viner writing for The Independent praised Coogan in particular, ‘…for allowing himself to seem so obsessed with his place in the entertainment firmament,’ and the same could be said for Brydon in allowing himself to be mocked for seemingly lesser achievements such as panel show Would I Lie to You?
The show itself was a huge success. The first two series were broadcast by the BBC, with the latter two being taken up by Sky. They were also knitted together into film versions, which works perfectly as each day of touring makes us yearn for the next. Regardless of whether you prefer the episodic approach or movie length versions, The Trip was able to collect rave reviews and award nominations. It even garnered a nomination for Best Sitcom, despite being far from traditional sitcom fair and being largely devoid of an actual storyline. It’s a hysterical vehicle for the pair’s impersonation and improvisation skills – of particular delight is Brydon’s Irish ‘Guess the bill’ routine before paying for each meal in Spain – and yet it’s also a show with heart and tenderness, in particular for The Trip to Greece as Brydon and Coogan deal with their middle-aged angst. But overall, it’s simply a joyful vehicle for two of Britain’s finest comic talents to have fun over dinner and wine, and it’s a pleasure to be invited along on The Trip.
Born and raised in Dorset, Brian Slade turned his back on a twenty-five-year career in IT in order to satisfy his writing passions. After success with magazine articles and smaller biographical pieces, he published his first full-length work, `Simon Cadell: The Authorised Biography'.
is a devoted fan of the comedy stars of yesteryear, citing Eric Morecambe, Ken
Dodd, Harpo Marx and Dudley Moore amongst his personal favourites. He was drawn
to the story of Simon Cadell through not only
`Hi-de-hi!' but also `Life Without George', a programme he
identified with having grown up in the Thatcher era.
Published on November 7th, 2020. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.