But the new show, The Trip, is a BBC triumph. Undoubtedly it helps if you know who the 2 characters are and the back stories of their public and private personas (but hell, there are American critics who it seems are only comprehensible if you're intimate with their entire works) but I'd like to think that even without that knowledge this new show of a few, short 30 minute episodes about 2 people with history and baggage, is just some of the most interesting, honest, intelligent and illuminating TV I've ever seen.
On the way it mercilessly rips the piss out of all sorts of cliches that are such holy cows that they normally can't be touched: ironic road trips, middle age conceits, the very art of food criticism, amusing chat techniques (professional and amateur), celebrity as superman, comedian as everyman, the educated version of male bravado... It's like a meta-critique of meta-criticism (which is obviously not meta-meta-criticism, or have I just laid myself open to similar ridicule?).
The fact it's all filmed in HD and mixes what appears to be genuine footage of at least some of the people involved (the sign of a good meta-level anything is not being patronising when they want to show the authentic item underneath) makes it all doubly delicious - did they enhance somehow the way Steve Coogan's head appears so small in comparision to the headrests in the Range Rover when set against the skyline of the Lake District and the muted colours of the various autumnal scenes, or is that just part of the understated way it's been filmed? I don't know, and given how the show works I feel it's one of the few genuine cases where to ask what of the incidental was intended and what just happened, what was scripted and what was ad-lib, what was set-up and what happened in hindsight, would be to ruin the show itself. The story line and the various external character interactions are obviously planned, but how many of the smirks and jibes, the monologues and repeated themes, the reactions and the sneers, are character or character actor... I don't think I'd believe the truth if you told me.
I've missed the "normal slot" so I'm watching it on digital catch-up but if you haven't seen it, grab it while you can. I swear than in 3 or so hours it'll tell you more about people and some of the ways we genuinely interact than 10 times as much of the The Sopranos, The Wire, or almost anything else I can think of.
Less is more and all that... if I've made it sound all noble and humourless and worthy, it's not, it makes me cry laughing, but when some government finally manages to dismantle the BBC and sell it off in constituent pieces to various vultures and pornographers, this is the sort of show that will be rediscovered in 20 years time and held up as an ideal of the sort of thing we've lost.