It’s hard to judge a series after just two episodes, but going on the strength of what we’re seen so far, The Trip has the potential to be one of Coogan’s best pieces of work. Rob Brydon obviously shouldn’t be ignored for his role in all of this, but considering Coogan’s long line of TV successes, it’s testament to the quality of the two episodes aired thus far that I can honestly mention this in the same breath as Saxondale and Partridge. It really is that good.
L’Enclume followed almost exactly the same pattern as the series opener, and I can only presume that the entire series will continue in this way. Coogan and Brydon turn up to another restaurant, eat some food, do lots of impressions, have a bit of competitive banter and turn in for the night. Can an entire series sustain such a format? Time will tell, but much will depend on the improvisational skills of the show’s genius double act and I’ve seen nothing to suggest that they can’t keep this up for another four episodes.
Last week I called for fewer impressions, something a few of you posted I was wrong to question. Well, this episode brought yet more of the same, from Bond to Ray Winstone, and for whatever reason, it worked for me this week. Again, I wonder whether the series will suffer if this is all we’re going to get by episode six, but last night got it just right. The Ray Winstone bit, in particular, was a sublime piece of comedic banter, the pair comparing their impressions over a bowl of snot. “I want the money next Wednesday, but before that you’re gonna drink a goblet of my sputum.” Brilliant.
Other choice conversations of the night included the typically British way of being ultra polite, despite reservations about the food (Brydon’s chastising of the sputum-inspired food one minute, then saying it was lovely to the waiter the next was very good), and confusions over a French waiter’s very strong accent. It all sounds very dull on paper, but watching the pair at work was a joy once more and the series is proving that you can achieve an awful lot with very little. Like spending an evening with your mate who makes you laugh, this works on a very simple, but very effective level.
It is more apparent watching this episode that the competition between the pair of actors will play a vital role throughout the series, as both ramped up their impressions and general acting skills to fine aplomb across the table. Egos are a well-worn subject where actors are concerned and it’s brilliantly played on here. Brydon’s obvious delight at nailing a Bond line (“Come, come, Mr Bond. You get just as much pleasure from killing as I do. Fucking yeah!”) had me in stitches.
Yet, it’s the moments away from the dinner table that hold most intrigue for how the show may progress. An opening dream sequence of Coogan in America, talking with Ben Stiller about how all Hollywood’s finest want to work with him, was a simply genius way to continue Coogan’s career plotline. Touched on again at the show’s end, this is presumably a recurring point for the series to return to.
The journey to the restaurant harked back to Partridge once more as the pair sang Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, which has also appeared on Partridge, of course. Then there is Coogan’s fractured, teetering relationship with girlfriend, Mischa, first punctured from his work on Anglo-Polish relations, and then upset further by his continuing insecurity about whether Mischa will leave him. The phone conversations Coogan has reveal a tortured, anxious soul and lend the show some touching moments.
These were most apparent during the episode’s closing minutes, though, as a lilting piano juxtaposed Brydon’s secure, happy relationship with his wife and Coogan’s obsession with furthering his career in the US. As with last week’s instalment, this mixture of two mindsets was well done and made me hanker for the next episode, as much as I wanted to eat the food they were downing, there and then.
That’s the only problem with the show: the shots of food make me very hungry.