The Trip: a show about death that deserves to live on

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan’s show is an absurd meditation on ageing – and as the years go by, it just gets better. It would be a grave mistake to stop it now

Lurking just over the horizon throughout all three series of The Trip is death. However much fun Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan have, there is always the vague sense that time is running out. In The Trip to Italy, as they sit on a rooftop bar admiring the beauty of the Italian Riviera, Rob can’t stop himself from wondering: “Don’t you think everything’s melancholic once you get to a certain age?”

The reaper’s icy presence is always felt but never seen. Until, that is, it comes roaring into view in the final seconds of The Trip to Spain. Steve, stranded and alone in the desert, gets out of his broken-down car to see some ominous-looking men approaching in the distance. The scene is reminiscent of Ali’s arrival in Lawrence of Arabia, but ends before the equivalent Omar Sharif reveal. The inference is that, if the scene were extended, Steve would almost certainly provoke a fatal misunderstanding by asking the men if they wanted to see his Peter O’Toole. This suggests that Michael Winterbottom, the show’s director and creator, might be thinking of ending the series there – but that would be a grave mistake.

The key to great comedy is knowing when to stop. The best British sitcoms are rarely more than three series long. There are obvious exceptions such as Dad’s Army, Blackadder and The Thick of It, but on the whole, three is the magic number. Other genres can afford to go on longer, but when it comes to comedy, the passage of time changes the gag, and it’s hardly ever for the better. The 55-year-old David Brent is not as funny as the 39-year-old version. The laughter to be found in his character desperately trying to be cool by clinging to youth becomes hollow when there’s nothing left to cling to. As the hair thins, so does the joke. But this wouldn’t be the case with Rob and Steve.

At its core, The Trip is a meditation on ageing. For that very reason, the ticking of the clock will only make it better. In the second episode of The Trip to Spain, there is a moment when Rob and Steve are walking side by side from their car to a restaurant. As they approach the entrance, they accelerate into a little jog for the last two yards to try to be first through the door. It’s a tiny, two-second shot that, if you notice it, makes you laugh out loud – and it’s typical of the show’s understated and unique brilliance. It’s a prosaic way of saying something profound: that the absurd tragedy of all men is they never stop being little boys. Moments such as this show why The Trip to Spain needn’t be the last. Imagine that scene when Rob and Steve are 55, 60 or 70. Eventually, Steve could try to tap-tackle Rob with his walking stick; the advancing years will only increase the show’s effectiveness.

In episode four, the pair talk about war and Steve insists that he would go to war if he didn’t have kids. “You’d entertain the troops,” quips Rob. “You’d do Alan Partridge for the troops. And all these proper men, who were giving everything, would love it as you came out and went ‘Ah-ha!’. Do you know what: I’d love it if a sniper got you at that moment.”

Steve replies: “I’d do the ‘Ha’ with my dying breath.” Before that happens, Rob and Steve, please go on another trip.


Edward Tew

The GuardianTramp

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