The Trip – shouting ‘Aha’ into the dead brown hills

Despite our island nation’s belief in ourselves as thoroughly amusing chaps, decent British-made televisual comedy has been a bit thin on the ground recently, so it was with some trepidation that I approached new comedy series The Trip (BBC 2 Mondays 10pm.)

In this six part show, comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel around a wintry North, stopping off at posh restaurants along the way. Whilst they dine, we are treated to a sort of existential play, where both men portray exaggerated versions of ‘themselves’ – a conceit that we’ve seen before in The Larry Sanders Show and Extras and director Winterbottom’s A Cock and Bull Story, (the 2005 film of Sterne’s novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, also starring both actors.) Over elaborately foamy menus the two men conduct conversations that quickly disintegrate into improvised impersonation competitions. In beween they trample around the countryside, utterly indifferent to the grandeur of the mottled winter moors that fill the screen behind them. These are two entirely self absorbed egos.

The initial premise doesn’t seem very exciting, but where the programme works so well is in the careful unveiling of the back story. Both men are obviously fearful of middle age. We are shown that Brydon is essentially a shallow little puppy, a mediocre talent, yet a man who is blissfully contented with his lot. Coogan on the other hand is portrayed as the tortured comedic Icarus who achieved massive early success and reached for stardom in Hollywood but finds himself back in Britain wondering if and where it all went wrong. You can feel that he thinks he no longer belongs here in this provincial island.

“I like humour, I like levity… I just find it all a bit tiresome… I don’t want to do British TV,” he tells his agent upon being offered the role of a baddie in Doctor Who.”I want to be in films. Good films,” he pleads.

“Coogan” medicates his emptiness with women and drugs, but he’s reached an age where he’s not sure if they work anymore. He seems embittered that nobody will let him forget his most famous creation, Alan Partridge, who looms over him like Frankenstein’s monster. His fans don’t want him to be a serious actor, they want him to keep making Alan Partridge episodes for ever and ever. The pathos lies in watching an actor tread an incredibly fine line between reality and tabloid mythology and it seems brave for Coogan to portray himself as so vulnerable and unsure of his worth. In episode three we see him standing alone in a valley as he shouts out his Partridge catchphrase ‘AHA!’ impotently into the dead brown hills.

Between the banter Winterbottom manages to sell the North as an attractive place, and the restaurants and hotels the two men stay in all seem very nice indeed. My only gripe with the programme has already been outlined by Brydon in episode three when he mentions to Coogan that “Essentially we’ll have the same conversation in every restaurant we review” – with more judicious editing it would perhaps have made a better film than the eked out 6 TV episodes that we have (Brydon’s impersonation oeuvre seems slim and he soon starts to look a bit desperate) But overall there is plenty to like about this series. Fans of Steve Coogan’s sublime comedic acting had more or less given him up for dead, so his return was well made with this series, as The Trip is one of the better things that’s been on television lately.

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About Author Profile: Worm

In between dealing with all things technological in the Dabbler engine room, Worm writes the weekly Wikiworm column every Saturday and our monthly Book Club newsletters.

19 thoughts on “The Trip – shouting ‘Aha’ into the dead brown hills

    ian russell
    November 25, 2010 at 08:41

    Well, as Roy Walker used to say, It’s good, but it’s not right.

    I’m not sure that Jo Brand’s current vehicle, Getting On, isn’t better. But what do I know, I’m more of an absurdist than a realist.

  2. Worm
    November 25, 2010 at 08:53

    you may very well be right Ian – I am building up to watching ‘Getting On’ as I have a serious Jo Brand allergy

    November 25, 2010 at 09:08

    I think ‘The Trip’ is sensational. Monday’s episode was the best so far – I was cracking up during that riff about “we leave at daybreak”…but then there’s always the tension about at which point the banter turns competitive. The introduction of the women gave the joshing a plausibly nasty edge. Uncomfortably, I see a bit of myself in both of the characters: I can do impressions – but as with playing the bagpipes, a gentleman is someone who can but doesn’t, and I’m trying to remember that….

    Apparently there is a film version (has won prizes and whatnot) which has all the funny bits edited out, leaving a middle-aged existential drama.

    Talking of BBC comedy, I also love Miranda, which is just as postmodern as The Trip in its way, but is unashamed to make heavy use of the comedy pratfall.

  4. Gaw
    November 25, 2010 at 09:20

    I don’t think it’s that funny, though it has its moments. But I do think it’s a very good, low-key, subtle drama about what it is to be a celebrity entertainer.

  5. Gaw
    November 25, 2010 at 09:23

    Oh and I agree that Miranda is great. Bit of everything in it. Also lovely to see it end with the famous ‘You have been watching…’.

  6. Worm
    November 25, 2010 at 10:15

    haven’t seen Miranda yet – is that the one with the woman who looks like Bernard Bresslaw?

    November 25, 2010 at 10:28

    No Worm, that’s Carry On Camping, and it’s Bernard Bresslaw in drag. Miranda looks like… Miranda.

    November 25, 2010 at 11:08

    Miranda is the one from Boldon, the wrong (Sunderland) end of Boldon, famous for having your bike nicked, as you rode it through the conurbation. Its auction house famously appears on that famously unwatchable Flog It.
    The Trip is one of those uncomfortable to watch neo realist pieces of television, Coogan close to madness and Rob Brydon well past the point of no return and how come the Lake District looks so empty when it never, ever is. Famous for, at one time, only having one decent noshery, Miller Howe, John Tovey’s joint.

    Anyhoo, abandon this mundane stuff, coming shortly to a flat panel near you…Andrew Nixon-Dixon-Fixon on German Art and the very lickable Julia Bradbury’s Kraut walkies, one of which is ‘on the Rhine’, hopefully the Rheinsteig Trail, Europe’s finest riverside plod, from Bonn to Wiesbaden,

  9. Brit
    November 25, 2010 at 11:17

    Perhaps you could deliver us a guest post on the Kraut Art season, Malty?

    November 25, 2010 at 12:05

    Excellent idea, can I include an item on different coloured swastika’s ?

    November 25, 2010 at 12:52

    Surely Worm, the woman who looks like Bernie Bresslaw is Massys ‘An Old Woman’ from the other day? And did you know that after a wait of almost 20 years, the whole series of Larry Sanders (89 episodes) has just been released, so that junkies like me can mainline over Christmas? Brand’s brand of misandry is just an act (trust me – I have an inside track), if it is the apparent bloke-hating that stops you giving her a big wet kiss. The clip you put up showing a scene from The Trip is a tasty lure, but not strong enough to tempt me away from effectively a blanket abandonment of all telly, in favour of the screen in front of me now – but I prefer your moderating view that it is ‘one of the better things’ on the box, to Brit’s rather bald ‘the finest programme currently on television is’, even if he may not have been entirely serious. Or was he?

    November 25, 2010 at 12:55

    I’ve never knowingly been entirely serious in my life, Mahlerman. It’s a curse.

  13. Worm
    November 25, 2010 at 13:14

    Of course I couldn’t possibly say that it’s ‘the finest programme currently on television’ – as everybody knows that that’s actually ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’ on Bravo.

  14. Gaw
    November 25, 2010 at 13:20

    Mahlerman, I’m a huge fan of Larry Sanders (especially of Rip Torn’s Arty). How about we mug you too for a post on that? Please!

    November 25, 2010 at 14:29

    The human condition is a thing of great complexity, especially when attempting to describe ones own, either to quantify or explain the subjective. One of the most awe inspiring is “i have never knowingly been…… my (entire) life.” Me, wracked with self-doubt and bent double with the baggage of histry can only whisper “well, maybe, maybe not”

    November 25, 2010 at 17:27

    Well Gaw (and Worm?), we are getting a bit off-message chatting about Larry, but if He-who-must-be-obeyed passes it, I will try and post it on my next Lazy Sunday. I have part of a particular episode that may give a flavour of the whole.
    It features what Malty would call the ‘lickable’ Sharon Stone as the main guest on the show but, more particularly, it highlights a thread that runs through all 89 episodes. Larry’s insecurity. He cannot take any kind of confrontation, and mostly gets Arty to deal with the nasty stuff. And if anybody, on or off the show is better looking than Larry (Sharon), funnier than Larry, earns more money than Larry (Sharon), is more famous than Larry (Sharon) – eventually Larry will fold under the pressure, and he does here after dating the minx, but discovering ‘back at his place’ that the ‘table 20’ dinner he wants to take her to, she is already attending, at ‘table one’. He asks who is at table one, and Sharon answers ‘Bill and Hillary’. ‘Oh them’ he responds. From there it is fast downhill. They embrace on the bed, but as he later tells Arty, he couldn’t get it up thinking that she was dining with the Clintons. He does eventually manage to perform, but only by switching on the TV and watching himself on his own chat show. My eyes are watering just thinking about it.

  17. Gaw
    November 25, 2010 at 20:01

    That’s a great episode. That show was so unbelievably well written.

  18. Susan
    November 27, 2010 at 00:26

    I will look out for this, worm, though thanks to your brilliantly written piece, I feel like I’ve already watched the programme… Miranda sounds interesting too.

    December 10, 2010 at 17:06

    I really loved it and thought it really engaging. I can’t imagineSteve Coogan protesting ‘but I’m amazing…’ when Michael Sheen’s talent is given an awkward resentful airing. Anyone who can impersonate Peter Sellers so perfectly has to be one of the happiest people in existence. Rob Brydon made me laugh more.

    I can’t wait for The Larry Sanders show… 89 episodes? Really? Almost too much bliss to hope for. Rip Torn was fantastic. Does anyone remember that dreadful encounter with Gary and Ricky Gervais? I still shudder at the thought. Now someone will tell me they’re close personal friends.

    Hollywood. Who needs it?

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