Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s “The Trip To Italy” on BBC2.

Series 1, The Trip.

Series 1, The Trip.

Few peo­ple noticed when The Trip slipped unob­tru­sive­ly onto our screens in 2010. A cou­ple of quite famous come­di­ans are sent off on a brief dri­ve around Eng­land to knock off a cou­ple of celebri­ty restau­rant reviews. In ret­ro­spect, as an idea, it was pitch perfect.

Super­fi­cial­ly, it pro­vides an excuse for a cou­ple of gen­uine­ly fun­ny come­di­ans to strut their impres­sions. But beneath that, and much more inter­est­ing­ly it was a por­trait of two men in the lat­ter stages of their mid­dle age try­ing to get their head around the unbridge­able gap between what were once their hopes and dreams, and what they’ve actu­al­ly done with their lives.

No longer on the menu alas.

No longer on the menu.

This is made all the more fas­ci­nat­ing by the fact that for many of us watch­ing, what we dream of is end­ing up exact­ly where they are. On the oth­er side of the screen. They have made it. What was so won­der­ful­ly dark about that first series was its explo­ration of what exact­ly “it” is, and whether the two in ques­tion real­ly have got there.

The sec­ond series kicked off on Fri­day. Inevitably it wasn’t quite as sharp or as dark as the first. The Trip to Italy is no longer the secret it once was and the bud­get and expec­ta­tions have shot up. So there was a ner­vous­ness to the first episode as it tried just a lit­tle too hard to please.

But at the very end of the episode they both stood there look­ing over at a cou­ple of pret­ty young girls. They’re not even threat­ened by us, they mused. We’ve become uncle mate­r­i­al. What was so impres­sive­ly dark about this, was that it was deliv­ered absolute­ly straight.

Series 2, now in Italy.

Series 2, now in Italy.

It was com­plete­ly and gen­uine­ly free from any sense of irony what­so­ev­er. And yet at the same time, you just knew with­out in any way hav­ing to be told, that deep down nei­ther of them believed it. When some­body next asks you what you mean by less is more, these two per­for­mances are as good an exam­ple as you’ll have to offer.

Bril­liant­ly act­ed and unob­tru­sive­ly direct­ed by Michael Win­ter­bot­tom, series two promis­es at the very least to be con­sis­tent­ly if gen­tly amus­ing. Hope­ful­ly, nice and qui­et­ly, it’ll con­tin­ue to be as bril­liant­ly dark.

The Trip To Italy is on Fri­day at 10pm on BBC2. Here’s a brief clip.

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