The final part of The Trip's study of middle-age loneliness and alienating ambition (told between mouthfuls of luxury food), wasn't the impressive conclusion I was hoping for, but it was a worthwhile ending and one of the more entertaining episodes from a storytelling perspective.
It began with a diversion to Bolton Abbey, with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon walking through the picturesque graveyard together, where they were inevitably inspired to discuss mortality and death, leading to Coogan giving a very amusing eulogy for Brydon, praising his friend while also drizzling this speech with flinty putdowns.
The week's restaurant was The Angel at Hetton, which was very different dining experience for two reasons: the meal was served al fresco and consisted of two Full English Breakfast's for a trifling £24.40. I wasn't sure if this was a particularly delicious fry-up cooked by a Michelin-star restaurant, but I prefer to think Coogan and Brydon had simply turned their nose up at the thought of more pretentious food and just wanted something classic and fulfilling. As they commented, it was the best meal of their trip, served up in the great outdoors -- which they've been increasingly more eager to explore.
There's been an obvious "bromantic" element to this comedy, which was amusingly touched on when Coogan took his "partner" Brydon back to meet his parents. They were shown to be deservedly proud of their famous son's success, while Brydon again opted to communicate mostly via impersonations. In fact, while Coogan's written to evoke a more negative reaction, there are times when Brydon's inability to go five minutes without mimicking a celebrity has me pitying him even more.
The show ended on an emotive sequence, but no real catharsis. The show's too British for hugs and tears having returned from a literally and spiritual "journey", really. Coogan simply dropped Brydon off at his home, then drove away after a curt farewell. But the denouement again visualized the disparity between the two friends: Coogan arrived home to an empty, dark luxury apartment overlooking a grey London skyline. Brydon was being fed a meal by his wife in their cozy home, after playing with his baby boy. The only chink of light for Coogan was his decision to turn down the HBO pilot he'd been offered, which might have led to him living in America for seven years. The inference being that he's found value in a world closer to home, away from a trophy girlfriend and wealthy trappings, and might perhaps keep in closer contact with his friend. Coogan's baptismal dunk in a river, after falling off a stepping stone, perhaps did the trick?
Overall, The Trip was many things: indulgent, ponderous, beautiful, hilarious, wry, repetitive, experimental, insightful, clever, silly, occasionally dull, sardonic, witty, heartrending, and prolonged. It wasn't to everyone's taste (some people missed the pathos because they're looking for laughs, and vice versa), but it was certainly a worthwhile venture, and a good example of the kind of unusual programming BBC2 used to deliver before the digital age eroded its identity.
What did you make of this series, now it's finished and can be examined as a collective piece? Would you be willing to see Coogan and Brydon go on another trip, maybe to the south?
DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom
TRANSMISSION: 6 December 2010, BBC2/HD, 10PM