Inside Television: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's ego trip makes a big impression


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The Independent Culture

What’s your general impression of Steve Coogan? Oscar-nominated screenwriter and comedy genius? Chippy crusader against tabloid press intrusion? Or simply, 'Aha, it's Alan Partridge!'? Tune it to the second series ofThe Trip To Italy on BBC Two this evening and you’ll be reminded of Coogan’s other impressions - his Roger Moore, his Morrissey and - most uncanny of all - his self-regarding British comedian called 'Steve Coogan'.

“If you’re wondering how this series is different from the first,” said the real Coogan at a press event last week, “the answer is, it isn’t”. Why change a winning formula? When The Trip first aired in 2010, it was enjoyable almost as much for its spectacular scenery and mouth-watering restaurant food as it was for the daring of its central conceit: comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play themselves, mercilessly mock each others foibles and debate the big questions of life. This time round the Lake District has been swapped for the Italian coast, but all other elements are in place, including the duo’s tendency to garnish every dish with a different silly voice.

There was a time on British TV when no stand-up act was complete without a celebrity impression. In the 70s Mike Yarwood was known for his Harold Wilson and, of course, his Frank Spencer (an essential in every impressionist’s repertoire, this series of The Trip even features Coogan doing Saddam Hussein doing Frank Spencer). In the 90s and early 2000s Alistair McGowan and Rory Bremner also had TV hits with impressionist shows.

Unfortunately for Coogan, his own start in showbiz, as a voice artist on Spitting Image fell between these two heydays. In the alternative comedy era, the impressionist’s art was considered deeply uncool, and Coogan, then a regular on Sunday Night At The Palladium-type variety shows felt himself unfairly associated with it. It took twenty-five years and the intervention of director Michael Winterbottom to gift Coogan with The Trip, which he calls “an excuse to do impersonations in a post-modern way”.

Comedians Coogan and Brydon are trained to go for the laugh, but Winterbottom has an different agenda, which resulted in The Trip’s exquisitely uncomfortable moments. The Trip in Italy has a warmer feel to match its Mediterranean climate, but impressions are still used as a way to act out competitive urges, professional jealousy and fears about aging. As Brydon says in episode two, while they contemplate the gorgeous view from hotel balcony, “It’s getting late. Do you take my meaning?” Only he says it in the voice of Michael Caine, of course.

There is one part of The Trip To Italy which strikes a false note, however. In all these expensive restaurants, in all these fancy parts of town why does no one ever approach the table of these two showboaters and politely request that they keep the noise down?

Almost Royals and Brits in America

Coogan has already said that any third series of The Trip will most likely be set in America,  but if it’s the American fondness for an English accent he’s hoping to exploit, it looks like Almost Royals has beat them too it. This the upcoming sit-com is first ever original commission from BBC America and it features a pair of posh English toffs touring the states. While in most countries the Englishman abroad is seen as a boorish, entitled colonial throwback to be ripped off or ignored, Americans, at least, still think the accent is “cute”. This is in large part thanks to the ongoing propaganda efforts of BBC America and great news for British tourists in the US. Unless, of course, you don’t talk like a member of the Downton Abbey family. In that case, they’ll assume you’re Australian.


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How I Met Your Mother, 4oD

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