Friday, December 10, 2010

'The Trip'

10 December 2010

I know ‘The Trip’ – the BBC2 series directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon which finished this week – has divided opinion but I thought it was wonderful. Building on the fictional relationship developed through improvised scenes in Winterbottom's 2005 film, ‘A Cock and Bull Story’, Coogan and Brydon play "loose versions of themselves" as they embark on a tour of restaurants across the North England, ostensibly for an article for The Observer Magazine. The wintry northern scenery was beautifully shot and the series has already, apparently, created an increase in visitor numbers. The blurring between reality and fiction was unsettlingly achieved: I had to remind myself constantly that we were watching Coogan and Brydon playing characters based on themselves and that each of their friends, relations and colleagues that we encountered were actors rather than the real people. Part-way through the series I began to worry that, enjoyable as it was, the format was a little formulaic with each episode reprising the same scenes in slightly different locations. But as we approached the final half-hour I began to notice the subtle story arcs that had been carefully hidden in the background. Like the best dramas it was both incredibly funny and painfully sad, saying much about ambition, relationships, male friendship and mortality. Despite the verbal jousting and subtle wordplay that characterised most of the series, or perhaps because it came so unexpectedly in this context, a couple of pieces of physical slapstick in the final episode provided a fantastic comic climax. And the recurring references to Rob Brydon’s impression of a ‘Small Man Trapped in a Box' led to a brilliant pay-off in this week’s finale. A very classy piece of television.

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