Review: The Trip to Italy

The Trip to Italy is a BBC short series following Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, two famous British comedy actors, in a sort of continuation of The Trip series aired in 2010, where they toured the North of England to rate six restaurants.

The first episode of the new series is set in Piemonte, an Italian region famous for wines, as the protagonists point out at the very beginning of the show. A specification that in the end turns out to be irrelevant, given that no detailed rating of any wine is provided and that most of the episode could have been shot anywhere in the world, consisting of a conversation between Rob and Steve while they eat in a luxurious restaurant serving traditional Italian food. The second episode is a little bit more immersed in its setting, showing the two actors not only eating in fancy restaurants and hotels, but also taking a beautiful boat trip along one of the most spectacular Italian shores, that of Liguria. The main theme of the show, however, is always the same: seemingly casual conversations on life, UK TV, actors and celebrities, in front of delicious dishes.

Some sketches between the two actors are very well played/improvised and the views of Italian landscapes together with the short visits to the houses of Byron and Shelley are interesting and in a way informative about nice places to visit abroad. The shame is that such a programme could have huge potential: it could really make people discover places to go, it could really rate restaurants and ease tourists’ lives should they get to those places or be curious to try really good food, it could show how tasty Italian food is actually cooked. Instead, what the audience gets are long dialogues which feel like a mix between staged and natural conversations around topics that are mostly only vaguely interesting, quick images showing the cooks or the food, and very brief comments on the places Rob and Steve go to.

The real problem is to define exactly what the series is. Sometimes it feels like a reality show, following Rob and Steve and when they discuss themselves and their lives or when they call or Skype their families; sometimes it appears a comedy show, following a clear script marvellously interpreted by the two actors and probably funny for the people who can understand their references; sometimes it seems to be one of the classic programmes rating restaurants or showing how to cook. In the end, what is left is just the idea that something is missing, even if certain exchanges between the two actors are really well made. It is, especially the second episode, fairly nice to watch thanks to the scenery, the references to Shelley’s poetry, and to the structure which is a little bit more varied and dynamic than that of the first one.

Overall, The Trip to Italy looks like something that can be missed. Definitely not advisable to non-British citizens who might have difficulties with British humour and might not know the authors, people and movies the key dialogues refer to and make fun of. It might make sense to UK citizens, given the success of the previous series, especially if they are willing to dream about good food and see few but poetic images of another country.