At first, The Trip seems like a terrible proposition. It can be summed up as follows: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing exaggerated versions of themselves, visit six Michelin-starred restaurants in Northern England to review them for an Observer article, spending most of their time together bickering over who can do better impressions of a number of famous people. Well, about seven famous people.
Somehow, over the course of six episodes in the first series, they make it a success so consistently I was left wondering how such a simple idea could fail to work when the two central characters have so much chemistry together. The whole thing is clearly full of improvisations and no matter how many times we hear Michael Caine, Hugh Grant and Ronnie Corbett, they never fail to disappoint.
Yet at the heart of the show we find that it isn’t just a whimsical improvised comedy that borders on self-indulgence, but rather a dissection of one man’s inner struggle to come to terms with the level and manner of his past successes. Coogan’s desire is to alter his legacy and change the public perception of him as a character comedian to something of more substance by taking on more serious roles. He doesn’t see himself as a comedian but as a character actor. His biggest frustrations come from interchanges with Brydon who discusses their similarities, which is hard to receive from a man who Coogan sees as simply an impressionist.
In many ways, parallels can be drawn with Michael Keaton’s recent performance in Birdman, a role that won Keaton an Oscar. In that film, Keaton pushes himself to the cusp of a breakdown as he ploughs all his remaining money and efforts into a theatrical production that he thinks will completely overhaul the public perception of him. It was ironic that Keaton, in this film, established himself as an actor of serious depth in a role that exaggerated the public’s perception of his own life. Similarly here, Coogan manages to come out of the series with a huge level of credibility for his portrayal of a man striving for more, finishing the six-part series almost completely emotionally broken. It is an excellent performance from Coogan and one I’m sure he’d rather be remembered for than Pauline Calf and Alan Partridge.
On the back of this, Coogan went on to star in the Oscar-nominated Philomena, and duly received critical acclaim for another role of real substance. Perhaps The Trip was the stepping stone onto this, but the fact a follow-up was commissioned in 2014 suggests both Brydon and Coogan know that they hit on something special in the first series.
The Trip is available to watch on Netflix UK and can be purchased on Blu-ray or DVD.
[Note] I can only apologise to the creator of the lovely alternative poster at the top of the page. I can’t give credit as the website from which it was sourced (movieweb) has lost the page. It is lovely though.