Along for the Ride With David O’Doherty review – pedestrian at best

The Guardian
The Guardian
A diffident ramble … David O’Doherty and Richard Ayoade in Along for the Ride.


omedians have always needed something to do on TV beyond comedy itself, which takes too long to write to sustain a career alone. Television, meanwhile, has always needed comedians to fill cracks in the schedule. For years, panel shows have been the mutually beneficial solution, but in 2021 there’s a new way to keep beloved jesters in work: give them a series where they invite other comedians on holiday.

After two decades of brilliantly imaginative routines, usually performed from behind a cheap keyboard, Irish comic David O’Doherty now receives that accolade in the form of Along for the Ride With David O’Doherty (Channel 4), a lighthearted four-parter that sees him go cycling with a different comedian each week. Surely there must be more to it than that? For better or worse, there really isn’t.

Future two-wheeled getaways will see O’Doherty joined by Mel Giedroyc, Joe Wilkinson and (taking advantage of the unwritten rule that allows one non-comedian guest a season) Grayson Perry. Episode one, however, rashly invites comparison with the best of all the “two comedians on holiday” shows by having the host of Travel Man, Richard Ayoade, as O’Doherty’s first companion. In his own Channel 4 vehicle, Ayoade deploys a comic voiceover that sounds as if every phrase has been ruthlessly honed for maximum dryness, wryness and surprising vocabulary, combined with off-the-cuff remarks that reveal that this is in fact how Ayoade naturally speaks.

Ayoade, in other words, is among the best in the UK at simply turning up and being funny. Recognising this, O’Doherty relegates himself to the role of straight man, fussing about bike gears and overseeing the itinerary while lobbing improv prompts at his friend. Ayoade gets some good craic out of the fantasy of them being mown down on a level crossing, imagining the incident as a viral YouTube video with cheesy, disjointed narration; then he strikes gold when a night around the campfire leaves him rasping in a lower register the next morning, sparking a riff where Kiri Te Kanawa becomes a gruff northerner.
Beloved jester ... Along for the Ride with David O’Doherty. Photograph: Ryan Mcnamara/Channel 4

Mostly, though, Along for the Ride is so stripped back in format and laid-back in tone that, even with Ayoade on board, it coasts. At times it resembles the nadir of the increasingly sprawling “two comedians” industry: the unscripted comedy podcast, home of that slow-motion cringe you feel when improvised chat refuses to turn into a “bit”. O’Doherty and Ayoade gab about marshmallow-toasting, Nazi invasion and doping in competitive cycling without much payback, and in a tea room they suffer the polite ignominy of being served by a waitress whose comic timing, cutting O’Doherty off when it becomes clear his routine about jam isn’t working, wins her the biggest laugh of the scene.

But whereas Travel Man has gags packed tighter than a corporal’s carry-on luggage, O’Doherty isn’t going for hilarity here so much as a diffident ramble. Even the scenery, from Winchelsea in East Sussex to Dungeness on the Kent coast, is just unassumingly pleasant countryside escapism, as opposed to the spectacular, best-of-Britain locations seen in another giant of the genre, Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing. There isn’t an equivalent here to that show’s serious subtext about the value of companionship and natural beauty in the face of advancing mortality, either, and the nearest it has to excitement is wondering if the two comedians will be rear-ended by one of the many motorists who loom behind them, not realising they have driven into the background of a dispensable comedy-factual show. (The moment where O’Doherty lands upside down in nettles while lifting his bike over a gate is too blatantly contrived to count.)

So do they go old-school celebrity travelogue, punctuating the journey by meeting historians and quirky local enthusiasts with fascinating nuggets to impart about their corner of the nation? Nope. Apart from the tea-shop server, it’s just O’Doherty and Ayoade, riding and freestyling for a solid hour. They have gone cycling for the sake of it, with the host’s parting lesson to his guest being to encourage him to get on his bike more often solely for the joy of it. Along for the Ride is unapologetic about not needing to take us anywhere. But its simple pleasures – exercise, the great outdoors, intermittently amusing badinage between two blokes you’ve seen on a lot of other, similar shows – aren’t quite enough.

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