I’ve recently discovered something on Netflix that has granted me hours, whole afternoons, worth of enjoyment. And the thing is it’s been out for ages, 5 years in fact. Somehow, for all those hours of my life I have squandered in front of the television, I’d missed this great show.
It’s called “The Trip”, and it’s basically Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as “lightly fictionalised” versions of themselves, on a tour of some bloody plush restaurants in the North of England, loosely following the trail of Romantic literary history. But the thing is – the beauty of the show is in fact that this plot is almost entirely secondary to the comedians themselves, and the cinematic lingering shots of Lancashire, the Lake District and Yorkshire – which make it so addictive to watch.
I’ll be honest, as many people’s “token” Northern friend, I’m only living up to those stereotypes here; but YES! it’s really fucking nice to see some of the awesome places I grew up on display for everyone to see. It’s given the star treatment by director Michael Winterbottom, a Lancashire-born guy himself. Among the places of interest, Steve Coogan hops across the stepping stones at Bolton Abbey, and the two explore the stunning curved ampitheatre of Malham Cove. Winterbottom exploits the natural beauty of the countryside, compelling us to see this part of the country with a new found esteem. Honestly, watch it. You’ll be dying to visit the North!
Somewhere between a documentary and a sit-com, we are privy to the musings of two celebrities we’ve come to love as part of the British media landscape. They are, as I mentioned, fictionalised versions of the two, but nevertheless, their idioscyncratic style of story-telling and impressions are batted to and fro with unmissable ease.
They evoke a tension between the idea surrounding the cult of celebrity in Britain: with Rob Brydon as the perhaps more well known star, known for his famous “small man in a box routine”, and Steve Coogan as a man, Brydon notes, who is famed for playing the character Alan Partridge and not known for his own name. The two have clearly known one another for a long time, time isn’t wasted on chit-chat, and their discussions regarding their careers and competitive nature frequently dissolves into one-upping each other through various impressions. Somehow the constant bickering speaks both of an underlying jealousy between the two, but also comes to reveal a deep admiration which shows in their comic timing.
Their impressions pay homage to British heroes; constantly inciting a sort of self-deprecating patriotism which the audience feels a part of. Among the tremendous assemblage of characters the two evoke through their impressions, the two effortlessly tumble from one Bond actor to another, resulting in a conversation between Roger Moore, Sean Connery, Piers Brosnan and eventually Liam Neeson. The threads that run through these conversations are competitive and witty, the audience drawn in to almost maniacal laughter as things grow more and more ridiculous. And somehow it works, as though the stereotypical perspective of the stiff British upper lip can balance the ramblings of two middle aged men. Neither character is condemned by the audience because their attitude is always reciprocal, their problems somehow related, though on the face of it they seem so unalike.
Often the men they pay tribute to are much more famous than themselves, highlighting the pressure they feel to parallel this success. The two soften to one another when they discuss their own experiences in the industry, reminding each other of their own comedic triumphs. But to some extent Winterbottom captures the unavoidable feeling of inferiority that truly brilliant people always seem to feel. With this he explores the trope of the artist; and Coogan’s genuine intellectual observations are often at odds with his personal sense of deficiency. And because the route they take covers the residences of Wordsworth and Coleridge, the conversation further emphasises the enigma of art and brilliance. Winterbottom never lectures the audience, and the nature of the conversational, improvisational style allows the public to be included – each topic is an in joke with somebody, whether it be poetry, nature, celebrity or cultural identity.
For a show that is uncompromisingly British, it is also somehow entirely new, inventive and never seen before. If you’ve any inclination to watch British comedy – this is the one you should be watching! Oh, and it’s on Netflix!