Joe and Katherine’s Bargain Holidays review – comedians slum it with a ‘spa day’ in a pub car park

<span>Lavender fields forever …. Joe and Kathryn’s Bargain Holidays.</span><span>Photograph: Channel 4</span>
Lavender fields forever …. Joe and Kathryn’s Bargain Holidays.Photograph: Channel 4

Channel 4 has carved out a particular niche in daytime-shaped TV shows airing at night. This largely means that an afternoon-ish format, of the sort that would usually be broken up with ads for life insurance, animal charities and conservatories, now comes with the added frisson of knowing that a well-known comedian might say a bad word – see, for example, Eight Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. Here we are, then, in familiar territory, with Joe and Katherine’s Bargain Holidays, a strangely late-afternoon-meets-late-night travelogue from comedians Joe Wilkinson and Katherine Ryan, about how to enjoy a holiday on the cheap.

It was filmed in the summer of 2022 – that must be why England looks so green and pleasant, rather than soaked to the skin with six months’ worth of relentless rain – and bears the hallmarks of peak inflation, as it searches for the best means of getting away without breaking the bank. Wilkinson is the bargain-hunter here, while Ryan leans into her luxury-loving persona. Throughout her career, Ryan has always been refreshingly open about money, and here she continues to be frank, as she shrugs off any notion of embarrassment about splashing out on nice stuff. She’ll spend £500 on a spa day, she says, and £300 on dinner, or more, if she gets the train from London to Paris and back, just for a romantic meal with her husband. “I just don’t want to compromise on my lifestyle,” she says. “Shall we compromise for a bit?” asks Wilkinson. “No,” she replies.

But they do compromise. It’s a programme called Bargain Holidays, so that is the whole idea. The conceit for episode one is that they’re trying to have a romantic mini-break in Norfolk, where Norwich was recently voted “the most romantic city in the UK”. There are no luxury spa days here, however. There is a bargain spa day, put on by a pub that offers a variety of packages featuring activities such as paddleboarding, yoga while paddleboarding, an ice bath in the pub car park and a pint. Wilkinson whips out the first of many money-off vouchers, and gets 10% off, and everyone seems to be having a lovely day out. They spend the night cheaply “champing”, or camping in a church, in which the only real issues are whether it is appropriate to pee in the compost toilet next to the graveyard, and whether the bats will bother them while they sleep. Before they hole up for the night, they tuck in to a takeaway from the Too Good To Go app, which allows you to buy reduced-price food that would otherwise go to waste. The burrito that turns up is, appropriately for the church setting, a true revelation.

Despite the setup depending on odd-couple energy, Ryan has no qualms about “slumming” it and is open to pretty much everything, even if she compares the “champing” experience to the “hospitals in Chornobyl”. In the search for a free night out, they end up at a poetry open mic in Norwich. She even makes a decent slam poet, in the only section of the show that wouldn’t pass muster at teatime. The pair voucher and deal their way through several eating establishments, including one Italian that offers a bargain platter, if you accept having no choice in what you eat and the fact that what you get depends on the chef’s mood that day. “When does she start drinking?” Ryan quips. Wilkinson, meanwhile, makes the most of the romantic brief by pursuing his own interests entirely. His interests are owls, and paying to smash things up in a Rage Room. This counts as a bargain activity because it’s cheaper if you bring your own stuff to smash – although, amazingly, you do still have to pay to do it.

The show doesn’t hammer home the environmental credentials of a holiday without flying, possibly because they do fly in later episodes, but an attempt to visit a picturesque lavender field has a mini climate twist of its own: the owners had to harvest it all early, owing to the 2022 heatwave. The only reason Wilkinson and Ryan can get their purple-hued selfie is because the owners have left them a strip or two.

There aren’t many places left for the travelogue to go, both creatively and literally, although this is a perfectly fine addition to the genre. But I am preternaturally biased to enjoy a travel show like this, because this sort of holiday is right up my cobbled street. Give me owl sanctuaries and pub gardens and a 90-minute cruise on a frilly riverboat named Southern Comfort and I would consider myself rested, relaxed and very happy indeed.

• Joe and Katherine’s Bargain Holidays is on Channel 4