The Complete First Season
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All photos HBO
Reviewed by Will Harris
n November 2001, just after the original UK version of “The Office” made its debut, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant kicked off a radio show on XFM. Their producer was a strange, round-headed gentleman named Karl Pilkington, and although he began the show behind the scenes, he was soon sharing center stage as Gervais and Merchant realized what an untapped – and, more importantly, completely unintentional – mine of comedy they’d tapped into. Pilkington, God bless him, has such incredibly odd…fair enough, some would say moronic…views of life, the universe, and everything that one can’t help but laugh at many of his utterly preposterous theories and observations.
In 2005, as the idea of podcasts began to take off, the trio shifted gears, approached this strange new medium, and quickly became the most downloaded podcast on iTunes. Of course, someone inevitably got ‘round to saying, “What else can we do to capitalize on this thing?” I’m sure the first pitch probably involved filming the proceedings (which, for all I know, they may already do), but somewhere along the line, the idea came about to take the audio from the podcasts and build an animated series around them. With the guiding hand of Loren Bouchard (“Dr. Katz,” “Home Movies”), “The Ricky Gervais Show” was soon born.
Really, though, it should be called “The Karl Pilkington Show.” Not that you can blame HBO (or anyone, really) for going with the more marketable name on the marquee, but without Pilkington, there is no show, as the whole reason for its existence is to animate the inanities that come out of Karl’s mouth – or his pen, as one of the regular features on the show is an examination of entries in his diary. Also recurring is “Monkey News,” where Pilkington brings to the table various tales which are simian-centric and, almost always, complete bollocks. In addition, listeners submit questions, some straight from James Lipton’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio” playbook, others designed solely to get a laughable response from Pilkington. (I mean, really, it’s not like you’d ever ask someone their thoughts on the appendix just for the hell of it.)
If you’ve listened to these podcasts before, you may not feel that the animation adds anything to the proceedings – and, ultimately, you’re right: nothing you see on the screen comes anywhere close to topping what you’re hearing. They do often add a bit of extra oomph to certain lines, though. The most grating part of the podcast, though, remains unchanged, and that’s Gervais’s omnipresent shrieks and gasps of laughter. It’s contagious up to a point, but when you hit the wall, you hit it hard. Plus, in animated form, there are only so many methods by which you can change up the sight of Cartoon Ricky pounding on the table of the recording studio.
If you don’t like hearing people being verbally abused, then “The Ricky Gervais Show” definitely isn’t going to be your cup of tea. For what it’s worth, though, it’s hard to imagine anyone listening to Karl Pilkington for more than about five minutes and not hearing something they find completely laughable. (I mean that in the best possible way, Karl, I swear.)
Special Features: It really shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the bonus material is at a bare minimum for the set and contains zero contributions from any of its three stars. For one thing, it’s not like they really had to do any work for the show, anyway, since their contribution – the podcasts – were done ages ago. For another, they’re busy blokes who, in addition to continuing with the podcasts (many of which will undoubtedly find their way to the show’s second season), have also worked together on The Science Channel’s “An Idiot Abroad,” where Gervais and Merchant sent Pilkington around the world mostly just to amuse themselves with the ridiculous reactions they (rightfully) figured he’d have. For what it’s worth, though, we do at least get a storyboard version of the first episode, along with what’s described as a “Comedy Gala Animation.” It’s quite short, though, and will undoubtedly leave you thinking, “So that’s it, then, is it?”