The Trip To Italy
You pay a premium to catch Steve Coogan these days, although he is often sighted from the cheap seats that are reserved for Auntie Beeb. If you want New Patridge you have to go to the multiplex or over to Sky and you pay extra for your trouble. Auntie Beeb has to make do with presenter, impressionist, chat show host and non movie star Rob Brydon. You know the bloke with the weak chat show where he insists on singing and the bloke who everyone wanted to replace Angus Deayton on Would I Lie To You. Expertly judged pathos and well acted caricatures have been substituted by Ronnie Corbett's biggest fan.That the two men are friends and colleagues, that they are knowing enough to understand a little of their own place in the fame firmament, that is well the meat and drink of The Trip. The Trip was orchestrated by Michael Winterbottom who had experience of the two men together from his attempt to bring The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, to the screen in A Cock and Bull Story. Factor in Coogan's back story of movie star scrapes and press intrusion into his life and you might have something of interest.
Well, that is how the original The Trip worked out. Released as a feature and then in an extended version as a six part series on BBC Two, we followed a jaded and troubled movie star and his less successful but more ebullient colleague through a travelogue/restaurant tour of Northern England. We saw them quarrel, we saw them competitively impersonate and we saw them flirt but above all we saw them drive and eat. This normality gave a sense of intimacy and for all the moments of fun, there was a poignancy to the men's interactions and their knowledge of their place in the world.Coogan was someone whose career was not yet established as a movie actor, a man whose beautiful girlfriends and dalliances didn't necessarily soothe his troubled soul. Brydon was more stable, happier, more domestic but not adverse to showing up his more successful friend and taking advantage of romantic opportunities. Between them, there was an undercurrent of Coogan knowing Brydon was his companion but he could have done better and Brydon believing Coogan was not more talented and perhaps over-reaching.
Now, I am sure this is a fictional construct but the joy of The Trip was just how convincing this was made and how Coogan could play the grumpy movie star and Brydon could be the persistent irritant. With the Trip to Italy, we rejoin the men, Coogan still sporting his Philomena haircut and Brydon still combing over and doing his Tom Jones noises at the drop of a hat. The backdrop is gorgeous, beautiful and romantic Italy and again a restaurant tour has been arranged as the men follow in the footsteps of Lord Byron.
On the evidence of the opening episode this trip is a more joyous affair. Coogan's TV series in the US has supposedly been cancelled and this time Brydon has set up the Trip but both men seem equally happy to be there. There are the competitive impressions again and the undercurrent of Brydon teasing out Coogan's hostility, but they are enjoying themselves, freer and a little more resigned to their age and position in the scheme of things.
The full series begins on the 4th April on BBC Two and we advise you to catch it....