In the hilarious semi-fictional series ‘The Trip’, two comedy legends Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan embark on a restaurant tour of Northern England for the Observer. This unique series ranks amongst some of the greatest British comedies of all time, guaranteeing laughs every episode. What truly makes ‘The Trip’ a completely unique viewing experience is the format of the show. Nearly the entirety of each episode consists of Brydon and Coogan improvising conversations with each other, exchanging insults with each other and competing over who can do the best impressions. Their personal wit and comedic sensibility mean the two can effectively carry the series and make ‘The Trip’ an entirely unique comedic experience. Aided by excellent editing, the conversations avoid monotony or awkwardness and maintain a semi-tension between the two leads. Although the two are friends, there’s an underlying competitive element to their relationship as they attempt to one-up each other’s impressions and make personal jabs at each other. In one scene where they imagine Brydon’s funeral, Rob announces “Steve Coogan, remember him?”, and when pretending to give Brydon’s eulogy Coogan retaliates, describing how “behind every little, pithy, vaguely amusing joke was a cry for help”.

In the series, the pair play exaggerated versions of themselves, sometimes resembling a Jekyll and Hyde-like double act. While Brydon seems the cheerful family man, content with his career hosting panel shows and Radio 4 comedy programs, Coogan’s character is, as described by Brydon, “desperate to be taken seriously”. Not unlike the real Steve Coogan, the character in ‘The Trip’ is trying to get cast in Hollywood films, disenchanted with fame and struggling to move away from his most famous character ‘Alan Partridge’, which he refers to as an “albatross around my neck”. As they say themselves, Brydon is very much the “entertainer” to Coogan’s “actor and comedian”. The little narrative arc the series has, revolves primarily around Steve Coogan’s personal life; his failing relationship with his much younger American girlfriend Mischa, his attempts to break into film and his distant relationship with his son Joe. Later in the series, we see him wrestle with the decision of whether to accept a part he’s been offered in an American series ‘Psychological’ involving a seven-year contract, or stay in London with his son (a narrative made even more poignant considering that, following the release of ‘The Trip’ in 2011 Coogan went on to act in seven feature films in the next two years).

In their improvised conversations, this duality between the two is projected. In the first episode, Coogan, rather bitterly describes how “anyone over forty who amuses themselves by doing impressions needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror” in response to Brydon’s impression of Anthony Hopkins. At one point in the third episode of the series, Coogan finds himself annoyed that, when they arrive at Wordsworth’s home only to find its closed, Brydon’s fame and natural charm are enough for the lady on the door to let them in. While the two remain friends during the series, the two argue over their conflicting attitudes towards life. Brydon the optimist, Coogan the cynic.

Although the repertoire of impressions repeated nearly every episode can occasionally wear thin, ‘The Trip’ is a hilarious effort fronted by two British comedy legends that never fails to entertain, even on repeat viewings. Now available on Netflix, I strongly recommend the series to all.