For a while I was getting a little uneasy about The Trip. We seemed to be falling into something akin to a formula, though a bittersweet and gently entertaining one:
"Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan have lunch. Rob Brydon does impressions; Steve Coogan competes with him. At a given point, Steve Coogan decides he’s above all of this and starts to sneer instead. Rob Brydon makes some hints at the fact that Steve Coogan is washed-up and disreputable in the eyes of the tabloids. All of this is intercut with shots of food preparation, and the pair make some quietly humorous remarks about their meal and their wine. Afterwards, Steve Coogan has a broody moment of contemplation against the beautiful, snow-coated countryside, considering the fickle nature of fame, and we rush to our computers to watch that Michael Caine bit again on Youtube."
I mean, of course it’s a series about people stuck in patterns of behaviour. But...well...couldn’t it be something a little more interesting than a Northern Sideways with a little I’m Still Here cut in?
So I was hugely relieved when, halfway through the third episode, Brydon asked,
“Do you think we’re just going to have the same conversation every lunch?”
And Coogan admitted that, yes, they probably would, and he went on to outline the specific structure that ran through every meal.
Since ever that moment – thankfully – Winterbottom and co. have found ways to raise the tension between the two leads and spin variations on the repeating pattern (like in episode four, when the boys tried out the impressions they’d been perfecting on the two women who’d come up to photograph Steve) and, most memorably of all, last night’s shocking, petulant outburst from Steve, snarling that he’d have been brilliant if he'd got to play David Frost in Frost/Nixon – but did not have the courage, for the first time in the entire series, to show off his impression.
Looking back, I think the intense repetition’s been a worthy tragic-comic experiment, though I do fear that on a second watch a number of scenes, to paraphrase Alan Partridge’s words, may turn out to “revolve without evolving”, like the bit in the car when they’re doing posh voices, or Steve’s constant fear that people will think he’s gay for hanging out with Rob Brydon, which doesn’t seem to go anywhere or make a great deal of sense. (I wouldn’t mind being belaboured a little less with the Don Quixote metaphor, either). But it is worth it for those echo-scenes that do work – Brydon playing out the same joking, loving (yet, somehow, slightly apart) ritual with his wife over the phone every night, Coogan waking to see another beautiful foreign woman slip out of his bedroom, and Steve staring into the mirror and repeating those tragic, remarkably serendipitous words of real-life Brydon,
“I’m a small man trapped in a box.”
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