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Steve Coogan is one of the funniest people on the planet. So why isn’t he as famous as, say, Ricky Gervais?

That’s the question that permeates The Trip, a six-part series starring Steve Coogan as a character called Steve Coogan. Co-star Rob Brydon plays a character named – yep – Rob Brydon.

The Trip was cut down to just under two hours for its North American release. That’s too bad, because like a good meal, the six half-hour episodes leave you wanting more.

The premise is simple: The Observer asks Coogan to review some fancy restaurants in Northern England, and he takes along Brydon for company. It’s kind of like Harold & Kumar, if they were English and going through mid-life crises.

According to Coogan, the script was mostly improvised. Director Michael Winterbottom had “…a beginning and an end; after that it was all up to us. Sometimes we wouldn’t know what the hell we were going to talk about.”

The results are hilarious, uncomfortable, and sometimes quite moving. Coogan and Brydon riff off each other with the ease of an old married couple, but it’s the tension between them that makes it so watchable. Where else would you find a “Michael Caine-off”?

I’ve always thought the reason Coogan hasn’t made it big in America (besides, ahem, Hamlet II) is because his characters are so dyed-in-the-wool British. David Brent probably wouldn’t exist without Coogan’s Alan Partridge. But Brent is a universal sort of loser, where Partridge is a very specific type of British twat.

References in The Trip to Follyfoot, Softly, Softly and Ronnie Corbett may baffle some viewers, but in the end it’s Coogan and Brydon’s relationship that resonates.

If you can track down a copy of the BBC 2 series, you won’t be disappointed. Otherwise there’s always the film version. In the meantime, here’s a taste:

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