For the past couple of years, a trend in British television has been the "sim com" series, or "simulated" situation comedy inspired by Curb Your Enthusiasm, which are various parts scripted and improvised, and partly fictional and based on real life. Director Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People) employs this anything-goes technique on The Trip, a six-part series that will premiere in the UK this month on BBC2. In it, fertilely funny British comedian Steve Coogan (I'm Alan Partridge, Tristram Shandy) plays a loose version of himself with a bit of Guardian food critic Jay Rayner (the leonine judge on Top Chef: Masters) thrown in.
After being assigned by the food section of a newspaper to put in a stint as guest critic, Coogan embarks on a road trip through the English countryside with his sad-faced, neurotic friend Rob Brydon (another beloved star of British comedies, including Gavin & Stacey, and who appeared with Coogan in Tristram Shandy). Together, they eat their way through a half dozen meals.
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Most of the dialogue is improvised, but the gastronomic aspects are not: Coogan and Brydon are actually dining at some of the better known restaurants in England's Lake District, Lancashire and the Yorkshire Dales -- including L'Enclume and Hipping Hall -- and viewers get to check out every dish. Judging from the clips available online, they also spend a lot of time pontificating, bickering, riffing and imitating their favorite movie stars. It's anyone's guess if The Trip will ever be shown in the states (come on, BBC America, let's beef up that comedy lineup), but the good news is that Winterbottom has edited series into a movie that will be shown at the Toronto Film Festival on Sept. 11th in the hopes of picking up a distributor.