19 February 2011 | bob the moo
S1: Good idea, sporadically very funny but needed more substance to really deliver on the potential
One of the things I did enjoy about 2005's Cock & Bull Story was the relationship between Coogan and Brydon in terms of how funny their discussions were but also how informed by their own insecurities and jealousies they were. It wasn't the whole of the film of course but it was a small part of it that worked well and I was definitely interested to see that idea and that relationship explored a bit more in The Trip. Although a shorter film version exists somewhere, in the UK I saw it as the six-part sitcom on BBC2 that gained near universal praise from critics but at the same time seemed to be actively disliked by the majority of the people who casually checked it out on TV one evening. Likewise on the internet forums opinion appears to equally polarised with people thinking it brilliant or dismissing it as self-indulgent tosh. In a way I sort of see where both sides are coming from.
On one hand the potential here is to really make a smart and clever post-modern study of "fame" and success using fictionalised versions of these two men, but then on the flip side much of each episode appears to be them having the same sort of conversations driven by impressions delivered mostly by Brydon while Coogan goes increasingly impatient with him. For me both of these things are equally true but they both end up working against each other and the material doesn't even seem to be strong enough or tight enough to be able to deliver on the idea and realise the potential. Of course it is mostly improvised around an idea and this does seem to help the comedy as their messy conversations produces some good laughs, but it means that the bitterness, the awkwardness, the slight air of failure and resentment doesn't even go deeper than specific scenes on which it is painted. What I was looking for was that these aspects would be "in" the characters and always part of them in more of a way that it was – irritation and impatience during a specific conversation is not quite the same as this and it isn't really countered by making sure we end each episode with Coogan silently considering his navel in one way or another.
I didn't hate it like some did but I certainly didn't love it like others did either. The potential is there and the two actors certainly seem talented enough but it does feel like they could have done with a much tighter leash in terms of being allowed to improvise and needed clever scripted material and direction to make sure the potential in the idea came through. It is an interesting and sporadically very funny failure though – but it is ultimately a failure as the potential never comes through in real meaning or substance and the comedy is a bit too repetitive after a few episodes to be classic.