Last night, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon gave us half an hour of tepid TV naval gazing, playing Larry David-style, caricatured versions of themselves. The Trip was billed as comedy but all we got was one never-ending, droning conversation between cronies.
To start with, the premise was weak: Steve invites Rob on a northern jolly. The Observer Magazine is sending him up the M1 to review restaurants. He was going to take his girlfriend Mischa but they split up, sort of, so he invited Rob instead. He doesn’t especially like Rob, so it’s not clear why he does this. Surely an obnoxious sociopath like Coogan’s sketch of himself would rather dine alone than suffer a fool like this heightened version of Brydon.
Anyway, they head up the motorway jousting bitterly. The dialogue was improvised, which should have worked but the chemistry just wasn't there. Rob wants to stop for breakfast because he’s been up since 5.30 but Steve refuses to pull over. And there’s a brief exchange on the subject of Steve’s preference for maps over sat navs. You need Spidey sense--or the comedy equivalent--to pick up on the almost imperceptible drollness that runs through their conversations. They seem... bored. We certainly were.
We’re doused with more underwhelming material when they reach their first destination: the Inn at Whitewell. Steve’s PA, thinking he was going with his girlfriend, only booked one room. Doh! Rob, in the role of chirpy, annoying companion, doesn’t object to sharing a bed but Steve is worried that he might “touch my bottom.”
Over dinner, which neither of them can describe with any kind of foodie flare, they trade impressions. Or rather, Rob does impressions (Ronnie Corbett, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Caine, etc) and Steve tells him they’re awful. Then he does his own, which are worse. This should have worked, but it didn’t. The scene was endless--at least 15 minutes of the 30. And it was so deliriously self-indulgent, the director didn’t even bother to pan out and capture the reaction of befuddled, annoyed diners. I mean, why would you? If the extras get camera time then the stars get less.
Coogan’s phone conversation with his agent on a hillside also lacked zest. The idea that he was up for mocking his history of making bad films was a good one, but when he went on to suggest that he didn’t want to make any more British television it fell flat. Oh the irony, etc.
Some actors simply cannot deliver controlled, sitcom improvisation. There’s no shame in that--it’s almost impossibly hard. Next time lads, play it safe: use a script.