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THE Trip sounds like a ter­ri­ble idea for a show. It’s an im­pro­vised six-part com­edy fea­tur­ing 40-some­thing co­me­di­ans Steve Coogan ( Tropic Thun­der) and Rob Bry­don ( Gavin and Stacey) play­ing fic­tion­alised ver­sions of them­selves do­ing a restau­rant tour of North­ern Eng­land.

It should be a bor­ing, self- in­dul­gent mess, but it’s one of the fun­ni­est and strangely af­fect­ing shows of the year.

Coogan plays a mal­con­tent and vain ver­sion of him­self whose re­la­tion­ships and Hol­ly­wood ca­reer are crum­bling. In des­per­a­tion, af­ter his girl­friend and ev­ery­one else turns him down, he in­vites Welsh ac­tor Bry­don along on a restau­rant re­view­ing trip for a Sun­day news­pa­per.

But Bry­don’s good na­ture and con­tented life clearly ir­ri­tate Coogan in­tensely.

Their an­tag­o­nis­tic re­la­tion­ship comes to a head in a hi­lar­i­ous ex­change as they at­tempt to outdo each other with stun­ningly ac­cu­rate Michael Caine im­per­son­ations: the young Caine, the old Caine, the bro­ken-voiced emo­tional Caine, the Caine that’s VERY LOUD IN­DEED and even the

Tasty com­edy: Steve Coogan Caine im­per­son­ation that bad im­per­son­ators do.

It’s also quite sad. This first episode closes with Coogan stum­bling to the top of a windy hill­side at dusk to get phone re­cep­tion and to call his es­tranged girl­friend in the US.

Even as he tries to reach out to her emo­tion­ally, he winds up push­ing her fur­ther away by in­sin­u­at­ing she’s cheat­ing on him.

It’s a strange show that cuts from an amus­ingly point­less dis­cus­sion about re­ced­ing gums to a scene filled with such melan­choly about missed op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­la­tion­ships gone wrong.

But it makes for ex­cel­lent tele­vi­sion. The Trip ABC1, 10.05pm

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