Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan are back on the road for another restaurant tour: after covering the North of England and Italy throughout the last two series, the pair are off to Spain for some fine dining, driving, occasional chatting about Don Quixote, and a lot of Michael Caine impressions. They may be in a different country, with new problems back home, but the third series of The Trip remains inviting, funny and engaging.
The skeletal premise of the show gives Coogan and Brydon plenty of room to improvise and explore the nuances of their fictionalised personas: Coogan is anxious about his need to be taken seriously as an artist – he mentions his Oscar nominated 2013 film Philomena constantly – and his personal life is messy and fractured as a result. Family man Brydon is generally more easy-going and relaxed about his public image as an affable comic actor, although his willingness to indulge Coogan’s neuroses for a week suggests that his new-born child might be testing his patience.
The Trip to Spain is, like the last two series, an exercise in indulgence – in a good way. Perhaps a third of the dialogue between Brydon and Coogan is them doing impressions. Well-worn favourites – Al Pacino, Michael Caine, Terry Wogan, various James Bonds – offer a way for the characters to defuse and digress, not to mention provide each other with near-constant competition (for my money, Brydon’s Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney are probably the funniest parts of the series.) It’s an odd style of comedy – one that quickly jumps between wry, quiet observation to both characters trying to loudly outdo each other’s David Bowie impression – that simply won’t be to everyone’s taste.
In the best way possible, The Trip to Spain is a relaxing watch. Director Michael Winterbottom captures some truly stunning shots of the vistas, valleys and coasts of Spain, and the gentle use of recurring music (notably Noel Harrison’s ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’, previously used to great effect in Coogan’s I’m Alan Partridge) creates a warm atmosphere that is occasionally at odds with the middle-aged angst and familial frictions that underscore the entire series. To its credit, this series is probably the boldest in terms of story, and if this ends up being the last series, it’s a strong conclusion.
Winterbottom has clearly found an effective niche here, and if the two previous series did nothing for you then The Trip to Spain is unlikely to change your mind. This is essential viewing for fans of the previous series – a free trial of Now TV is probably the easiest way to watch it if you haven’t got Sky – and comes recommended for those who enjoy understated comedy (and Anthony Hopkins impressions).