Series one, episode one ‘Are you friends?’ ‘No, we work together.’ Rob Brydon’s response to the receptionist at Lancashire’s famous Inn at Whitewell is at the crux of what this hugely entertaining collaboration with Steve Coogan and Michael Winterbottom (first shown in 2010) is all about. Winterbottom’s McGuffin is to send Brydon and Coogan – playing variations on their personas from ‘A Cock and Bull Story’ – motoring off around the north of England, reviewing rustic restaurants for The Observer.
But really, it’s a chance for the two comedians (sorry, comic performers) to riff on their reputations (Coogan: chippy and ambitious; Brydon: warm and eager to please), with near-suicidal ruthlessness, for our delectation. This opening episode is a treat. Slightly pathetic one-upmanship abounds as Brydon tears relentlessly through his impressions from A(l Pacino) to R(onnie Corbett) – much to Coogan’s derision. The erstwhile Alan Partridge, meanwhile, gripes about feeling unappreciated by all and sundry, flirting haplessly with bar staff while Brydon turns on his unthreatening charm.
Winterbottom’s direction is unobtrusive but occasionally telling, while the landscape makes a backdrop spectacular enough to force its way into the foreground in later episodes. All sorts of themes are bubbling under the surface – the ever-evolving nature of male friendship, the dying of the creative light, the relative merits of road maps and satnavs – but you may well be laughing too much to care. Series two is currently in production in rural Italy, and we can’t wait.