In the opening sequence of An Idiot Abroad, Ricky Gervais says that the show is really just the “most expensive practical joke” that he has ever done. The joke is at the expense of his friend, Karl Pilkington. With his cohort, Stephen Merchant, Ricky manages to convince Karl that the British cable channel SKY1 wants to pay to send Karl to the Seven Wonders of the World. Because Karl is not the brightest bulb in the bunch (he is sort of the Jason Mewes to Ricky’s Kevin Smith, though I don’t think Karl partakes of illegal substances – he’s just naturally this way), he believes them and sets out to places around the globe. As soon as he leaves, Ricky and Stephen plot random detours for his trips, forcing him to experience the culture of each area, sometimes in pretty extreme ways.
It was just dumb luck that I was introduced to this trio just a few weeks before this program began to air in the US. My friend had rented The Ricky Gervais Show, an HBO program that takes the BBC podcasts between these three men and animates them, creating a whole new level of hilarity and awkwardness. We watched several episodes and then I began to listen to some of the other podcasts, listening to them discuss everything from the merits of being British to if you could switch out somebodies brain to a different body. Then I stumbled upon a commercials for An Idiot Abroad airing in the U.S. on The Science Channel.
The thing that makes the show so watchable is that Karl doesn’t have a mean bone in his body (He is bombarded in India by people celebrating a holy day, covering him in paint, and while he gets distressed, he is never cruel to the people on the street). Also, he truly believes that he can do anything (when Stephen arranges a Kung-Fu lesson for Karl, he is concerned that he has never done Kung Fu and therefore does not know his own power). To top it off, he seems unable to compute anything that did not happen within his lifetime. He looks at a photo of the ancient Pyramids and his first reaction is to talk about how his neighbors would feel about something like that in their yard (“Tear it down!” “It’s like a giant pylon!”).
It’s a really hard show to describe to someone who has not experienced this trio before. Ricky and Stephen are not really mean to Karl, but they do bait him, asking him questions on subjects he knows nothing about. But then again, Karl is the one who keeps talking. But just look at Ricky’s face in the advertisement there — Karl makes Ricky Gervais crack up. There’s something great about hearing someone as funny as Ricky laughing so hard at something “deep” Karl has said.
If you’ve got Science Channel (check your On Demand, even though I don’t get the channel in my lineup, I’m able to get the episodes On Demand), check it out. Karl has moments of cluelessness and deep conetemplation, but both of them will make you giggle.
What more can you do but shake your head and say “Oh, Karl!”