In Depth

The Trip to Italy: Brydon and Coogan ride again

It has all the ingredients of the excellent first series, but something's amiss on The Trip to Italy

The Trip to Italy

THE first series of The Trip was a quiet delight. In the unpromising conceit of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reviewing northern English restaurants, it found both humour and sadness.

The comedy was broad, much of it deriving from Brydon and Coogan’s attempts to outdo each other with impersonations, but the tone was unusually delicate. An air of melancholy seeped in whenever the two men stopped talking.

The promise of new episodes, set in Italy, therefore provoked mixed feelings. Would Michael Winterbottom, who directs the largely improvised series, find a way of stretching his fragile formula without breaking it.

Tentatively, the answer seems to be no.

It’s good to see Brydon and Coogan back on screen together, but as they start up the old schtick it feels a bit tired. The characters’ willingness to acknowledge the sense of deja vu does not entirely dispel it.

“We’re not going to do any impressions, are we?” Coogan says. “Because we talked about that.” Nevertheless, Brydon has broken the rule less than 90 seconds in.

The real problem, though, is that it’s too amiable. Coogan’s character, edgy and brittle in the first series, seems to have mellowed. Even the news that his much-discussed American show is on “permanent hiatus” leaves him relatively untroubled, and Brydon’s suggestion that he should retire provokes only mild irritation.

Without that sliver of cruelty, it’s all rather aimless - like a middle-class Top Gear special, with passive-aggressive bickering instead of faux macho banter. And the Italian scenery has neither the beauty nor the drama of the northern English landscape of the first series.

Perhaps it’s all part of the plan, and subsequent episodes will undercut the complacent air of the first. After all, the last series worked cumulatively, with its rhythms, revelations and evasions building over time.

Maybe. The episode ended well, with Brydon, surrounded by young and beautiful Italians, reflecting on the invisibility of the middle-aged. “They think we’re two elderly homosexuals,” he says, “on a last tour of Europe before we die.”

The Trip to Italy continues on BBC Two on Fridays at 10pm

Holden Frith tweets at twitter.com/holdenfrith

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