“The Trip to Greece” (2020)
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Featuring: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon
Steve Coogan: “Originality is overrated.”
Released on DVD recently is the television version of the fourth series of the hit comedy “The Trip” featuring at its core actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and Director Michael Winterbottom who this time take a road trip around Greece following the path of the legendary Odyssey, all the while still doing the same old schtick of telling jokes, giving a history of the are they are in, insulting each other and offering impressions. What is immediately different to the previous three series is the tiredness that at times permeates the air of our two protagonists, whilst Rob seems as usual brimming with enthusiasm his partner Steve seems not only tired of the same routine but challenges Rob in almost every episode whether it be about guessing the bill, Rob over talking Steve at points, the idea of what Alan Partridge means and their general disagreeable about a variety of topics, Steve’s perceived success of himself at the cost of Rob or that Rob does not seem to care about that aspect of his life.
The original series of the “The Trip” (no coincidence that the Odyssey was ten years and this travel one has been about the same time) was broadly based around Steve, in an effort to impress his gourmet girlfriend, Mischa (Margo Stilley), accepts a commission from The Observer to go on a restaurant tour of the north of England. When Mischa insists they take a break from their relationship, Steve invites colleague and friend-of-sorts Rob Brydon. On the trip, Coogan has a number of one-night stands, but is miserable professionally and personally, despite being the bigger star; Brydon, with his young family, is more content and laid-back. In the second series, Rob and Steve are commissioned to do another restaurant tour, this time in Italy from Piedmont to Capri, following in the footsteps of the great Romantic poets in the early 19th century on the Grand Tour. While on the tour, Rob wins a part in an American Michael Mann film, which Steve bristles with the idea of. In the third series, Rob and Steve are commissioned to do another restaurant tour, this time in Spain.
Which brings us to this series, and the last, but time has moved on and both actors feel more apart than ever, almost like they are not only over each other but would both rather be somewhere else. In the first series it seemed like a diversion, especially for Steve, as each subsequent series has evolved the idea who the trips were for has altered, now we see that maybe both Steve and Rob may rather be in others company.
It is always important to remember that both Steve and Rob are not themselves but are heightened versions of themselves with fictitious elements brought into the series which also means that their points of view and other personal elements must be taken as a fiction also. This means of course that they can be someone other than they actually are which is a freedom few get to experience and make art out of which is fantastic. Some of the best aspects of the series are when we think we are seeing some truth but it probably is the opposite. My favourite segments of the show have moved away from the meals when the two stars would riff on mimicking other actors, the most famous now being Al Pacino and Michael Caine which still appear here, the importance of which has diminished as time has moved forward. When we see Steve in a stolen moment actually being entertained by Rob is something truly special, the smiles and actual joy are something to see from someone who thinks they might be a better actor and bigger star than they actually are, who seems to dismiss public acknowledgement but loves being recognised by anyone, especially at his partners expense. However we see less and less of the ‘real’ Rob, there are few moments when I think I might actually be seeing some real part of him, for me his performance is either all real or all artifice.
There are so many moments in this series that are so good that by the time we witness them we are already on to the next scene or segment which is a strength and a weakness, we never delve too long on one topic or in one place, the narrative style created by director Michael Winterbottom has increased over the ten years with this one possibly the busiest. Winterbottom has proved himself to be one of the greatest living English directors to have emerged in the past five decades, his work is eclectic in a good way with this travelogue not only defying its genre but introducing a new one where celebrities tour but with a knowing eye on themselves and their audience.
One moment where this particular series threw me was a section where a man who works with displaced peoples recognises Steve from a movie they worked on, he invites both actors to see the place where the people are housed, and in a surprise Steve agrees where Rob is the one who is uncomfortable with this. In any other series it may have been Steve who was uncomfortable and Ron who may have agreed. This is a change from the characters from the first series where Rob was the more open and Steve could not wait for it to be over.
There is much to discuss in terms of this series but the idea of mortality and what that means hangs over the show especially with Steve’s father being sick and on death’s door and Rob with his family not seeming to notice he has even gone on a trip. Add that with the fallen Empire they are travelling through and them constantly talking about the legacies some of the greatest thinkers have left behind it is not difficult to see what the underlying theme is.
This latest and last series may not be agreeable to all but given some time and the idea of a full circle it is not hard to really enjoy this one, it has an ending that not all may enjoy but after the ending to the previous series it is a full stop that I was happy to see.
The Trip to Greece: Troy to Kavala: Rob and Steve are on a road trip inspired by the Odyssey through Greece. First, they visit Troy, almost get involved in the refuge crisis near Lesbos, and sing their favorite Rod Stewart song as nostalgia and melancholy start to kick in.
Kavala to Pelion: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s gastro tour takes them to the beach home of Mamma Mia!, where their lunchtime chat is about Alexander the Great and Ray Winstone.
Pelion to Athens: Rob and Steve enjoy a rainy day at Delphi, some Michelin-starred seafood and a battle to see who can do the greatest impressions.
Athens to Hydra; Rob and Steve strike a pose at the Epidaurus Amphitheatre. Then, it’s on to Hydra for a long lunch, before Steve finds romance on the waterfront.
Hydra to the Mani: Rob and Steve set sail for Limini, where they reflect on their middle age. Then it’s off to the caves of Dios for some a cappella.
The Mani to Ithaca: Rob and Steve’s island-hopping tour is cut short in King Nestor’s home of Pilos as Steve receives some bad news. It makes for an emotional journey home.