Best TV of 2014: No 5 – The Trip to Italy

Was the Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon vehicle a travelogue, a comedy, a food show, scripted reality, or something else entirely? Or was it simply as good as television gets?

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  • A convertible Mini doesn’t have a massive amount of legroom in the back. I don’t care – I would have sacrificed comfort for a ride around Italy with Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, singing along to Alanis Morissette, in the voice of Roger Moore; playing Byron and Shelley, possibly having a romantic liaison, with a younger lady; certainly having lunch, at lovely restaurants, while discussing eating Mo Farah’s legs (over Stephen Hawking’s) after an Andean plane crash; or just bickering and bantering about our mid-life crises. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to be on a TV show so much (well, perhaps Entourage, but that’s even less likely).

    Failing that, just watching The Trip to Italy was enough, as it was about as good as television got last year. Genuinely original, interesting television. Director Michael Winterbottom, with a lot of help from Coogan and Brydon, has taken the travelogue and not just breathed new life into it but set the defibrillator on it, too.

    Is it a travelogue, though? They’re in Italy, and it’s a little bit about Italy, but not very much. It’s a food show, but not really about food. How much is scripted? Is there any reality? Have they reinvented scripted reality, too? Are we even watching the real Steve Coogan and the real Rob Brydon?

    None of which really matters, because there are plenty of truths in there, about getting on a bit and being a bloke, about work insecurities, family, mortality. Friendship, too, and that does appear to be real – in spite of all the bickering, there seems to be genuine warmth between them.

    Maybe that’s what it mostly is, then: buddy television, a couple of moderately famous middle-aged mates arsing about in Italy, pretending to be people who are more famous. Oh yeah, that’s the other thing they’ve reinvented – the impression. In a way that makes it OK to do them again. Post-impressionists, you might call them. So they don’t just do Michael Caine, they have a Michael Caine-Off. Or the previously mentioned singalong, in which the real Steve Coogan is being a sort of fictional (although probably pretty real) Steve Coogan, being Roger Moore, being Alanis Morissette: “And I’m here to remind you/ Of the mess you left when you went away …” Hahahahaha.

    Rory Bremner, Alistair McGowan et al must be tearing their hair out. Hey, that’s another TV idea. If there’s another Trip – The Trip to Somewhere Else – they could get a coach to follow Rob and Steve around, and fill it with all the people who have been rendered redundant by the two men in the Mini in front, then make a BBC3 reality spin-off out of that. Not just impressionists, but pious celebrity traveloggers, and dull foody people. Rick Stein, basically. There might even be room for a jealous television critic on there, and I’d get to go along after all, just a little further behind than I’d hoped. Steve and Rob could toss us any scraps from their expensive restaurant lunches to fight over. It could be called The Trip: Doggy Bag.


    Sam Wollaston

    The GuardianTramp

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