This is a strange show to review, as there are times when the repetition goes far beyond a joke (just how many Michael Caine impressions do we need to hear?), and it's only in the opening/closing five minutes that the story touches on something deeper. That said, The Trip still has a peculiar grip on my attention, as there are instances when the comedy and drama knit very well.
"Hipping Hall" shook up the format slightly, as Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon were joined for a meal by Steve's agent Emma (Claire Keelan) and Spanish photographer Yolanda (Marta Barrio) from The Observer. This meant Coogan and Brydon had an audience in two attractive women, so their competitiveness took on the feel of cheeky boys trying to impress girls in the school canteen. Having spent three episodes watching a "duel" between two comedians, it was refreshing to see a more layered discussion and interjections from other people. Amusingly, Rob's renowned impression of Ronnie Corbett failed to be recognized by either of the new dinner guests.
I was surprised by the darker turn the episode took, when photographer Yolanda was revealed to be a crack addict and Steve was tempted into a relapse -- which he only narrowly avoided. While having his photo taken on the windswept hills, Steve received the offer of a co-starring role in a US TV pilot, only to have second thoughts when he heard he'd be contracted for seven years if it's a hit. Already concerned about his middle age, you could see the panic in his eyes that so much of his forties would be swallowed up -- and for what? Fame and fortune as the next Hugh Laurie is great, but you get the feeling Steve's beginning to consider the home comforts he's taken for granted.
But maybe the real bombshell was seeing Rob make a clumsy move on Emma back at the hotel, moving in for a kiss while singing as Tom Jones and misjudging her "signals" entirely. It surprised me because Rob's been written as the sensible one who wouldn't risk his marriage, as many episodes have ended with him having an affectionate bedtime chat with his wife on the phone. Is hanging around Steve beginning to rub off on him? Or was this just a silly mistake brought on by loneliness?
Overall, I'm still enjoying The Trip, but it never stays consistently brilliant for me to consider a whole episode totally successful. There are fantastic scenes, good lines, occasionally intriguing character moments, but also a lot of repetitiveness and indulgent twaddle. I think a two hour-long specials would have been a better format for this, to take the sting out.
DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom
TRANSMISSION: 22 November 2010, BBC2/HD, 10PM