As Michael Nyman’s familiar melancholy notes accompany the rolling credits, I have already begun forming a kind of review in my head. I’m not really in the habit of reviewing anything to be honest. That much is clear from my ham-fisted attempts at critiquing the food on our Trip last year. However, it seems remiss if I don’t make some comment about The Trip to Spain, which had its first outing last night (6 April 2017) on Sky Atlantic.
It has been reasonably well promoted, no doubt driven by the Sky marketing machine as much as anything, but I have tried to avoid too many spoilers, or previews. I wanted to come to it fresh, albeit with the baggage (luggage?) of the first two series stored in my head. I don’t mind admitting to some genuine excitement when the adverts (ugh) gave way to the comfortably familiar titles.
I suppose there are some who will find the repetition of the same devices and dialogue annoying. But I think what I actually enjoyed most was a sort of return to the first Trip. The Range Rover is back (a 2016, Autobiography, if you must know). Steve collects Rob from outside his house. Heck, even the way they awkwardly chat, load the car and Rob waves goodbye is facsimile of The Inn at Whitewell. The overhead shots of the Rangie as is drives along the motorways of England, en route to the ferry hark back to those opening scenes.
I know a little more about the production of the series now,. I have read and heard things in between each series, about how it is all put together, that kind of inform the way I view the show (most recently perhaps, was Steve’s chat with Adam Buxton where he talked briefly about it). I suppose that can be a sub-conscious distraction in a way but i like to think it just colours things in a little.
I confess to not enjoying The Trip to Italy as much as the first series. I have only watched it twice and although on the second viewing I got more out of it, I think I struggled a bit with the multiple inversions from the first series – the most obvious being the role reversal for Steve and Rob. Taking the action away from the UK, the greater emphasis on the travelogue moments and little things like the rented Mini and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill soundtrack that, although now iconic of that series, seemed like too much of a departure for me at the time. Like I say, I have warmed to it in hindsight and I think the conversations over dinner are notably warmer and less confrontational. Knowing the way the series had evolved from the first to Italy, I was curious as to how they would change things up for Spain.
It’s early days of course but it seems they have blended the two. Steve is happier, Rob seems happy too. They’re superficially perhaps comfortable at being in their early 50s. Flags are up about the stresses of Rob’s young family and Steve’s innate professional anxieties and his rekindled relationship with Mischa. Perhaps the stormy weather means something but that smacks of an A-level student’s understanding of symbolism, which is probably insulting to all involved!
I like the fact that Steve can’t recall details about the name of Rob’s kids or even his wife, but that they both remember details about their past trips together. Then there was the musical sequence in the car as it weaved through the countryside, Steve’s voice providing the instrumental track and Rob singing). These things that make it feel real I suppose, in the way that old friends talk about and do the same things and there’s a nostalgia and comfort in shared familiarity. But it also made me think, even for a minute, that the series has a kind of cult following and Michael Winterbottom is acknowledging the affection and the canon that the series is has. Even the nerdy, slightly obsessive and over-analytical affection manifested in this blog.
Another thing I kind of missed in Italy was the comparative lack of interest in the food. The Trip had a definite gastronomic tour vibe to it. Italy had become more of a travelogue. I imagine this was for a number of reasons. The Lakes and the Dales were familiar territory for Steve, he wouldn’t be quite so interested in exploring or discovering the area and its cultural links. It was a culinary road trip. An overseas trip, particularly one in the sun, even a fly-drive, is far more likely to lend itself to a holiday experience. You’ll be less au fait with restaurants, chefs and cuisine. But I think there was something in The Trip in the pretence that they were there primarily to review the restaurants and the food (at least in Mischa’s absence) that added to the exchanges over dinner. I suspect that Spain will also focus less on the food but hopefully, as it has that road trip feel (albeit driving from London to southern Spain), even if they don’t dwell quite so much on the gastronomy they’ll pare back some of the tourist stuff. Time will tell.
The episode closed with more pleasing nods to the past. Steve’s disappointing call to his agent. Rob going for a run. Steve hitting on local bar staff. More of the same please. In a good way.