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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