Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Trip to Italy: Coogan & Brydon & La Dolce Vita

If you can't travel to Italy yourself, the next best thing might be to watch The Trip to Italy. The sequel to 2010's marvelous The Trip, this series sees the intrepid Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon team up yet again to review six restaurants for a column in The Observer. But this time, rather than touring inns in the northern English countryside, they are following the footsteps of Milton and Byron on a Grand Tour of Italy. It's a sumptuous, scenic undertaking, with plenty of comedy and pathos along the way.

In the first series, Coogan was decidedly the unhappier man of the duo. But now, it's Brydon who's more troubled. I won't spoil what happens, but let's say there are some uncharacteristic shenanigans. However, as with any show featuring two of England's premier comedians, the comedy far outweighs the drama. These six episodes feature an unrelenting onslaught of impressions - there are the various James Bonds, multiple Godfather monologues (appropriate, given the Italian setting), and of course, some Michael Caine for good measure.

The banter between the two men is also much more upbeat. I know they're only playing fictionalized versions of themselves, but I can't help feeling that Coogan's recent success with Philomena and the general upswing of his career trajectory has made him a much happier person. Unlike The Trip, where he was constantly competing with Brydon to show off his comedic chops, The Trip to Italy features a much less desperate Coogan, one who actually seems to enjoy Brydon's antics and bursts out laughing in every episode rather than wryly pursing his lips and looking grumpy. And for some reason, the two men loudly sing along to an Alanis Morissette CD as they drive to their various destinations. It's an odd but delightful addition that further enhances their breezy camaraderie.

Of course, the Italian scenery might  have contributed a great deal to the cheeriness of the actors. The first series was beautiful, but these Italian hotels are jaw-dropping. Nestled in green mountains, featuring azure sea views, bathed in glorious sunshine, and serving up plate after plate of delectable Italian cuisine: it is impossible to be in a bad mood during this trip. This series was also edited down to make a feature film, and I look forward to seeing what scenes director Michael Winterbottom chose to highlight. This exercise between editing for film versus editing for television allows for a fascinating glimpse into Winterbottom's thought processes about the essence of each Trip. So head on over to the BBC iPlayer to catch the entire series, or buy the DVD box set. It's a trip worth taking.

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