The Ricky Gervais Show
The love affair between HBO and Ricky Gervais continues in The Ricky Gervais Show, which is an animated series of six-year-old podcasts. The premise of the show is that Ricky Gervais, his longtime collaborater Stephen Merchant, and a producer and friend of theirs, Karl Pilkington, who is one of the supidest men ever to be podcasted, sit around and talk. Sometimes about news stories, sometimes about news stories involving monkeys (Monkey News is their only segment) but most often about nothing at all. The meat of the show is Gervais and Merchant relentlessly making fun of Pilkington by eliciting his thoughts about anything and everything. The show only grows beyond a simple podcast when the hypothetical and real situations they discuss are animated as well.
Gervais is funny, and so his show is often funny. Stephen Merchant has a wonderfully deep voice and a sense of humor as refined as Gervais', but has not been on television as much because he is 6'7" and was described in one episode as a "stick insect with glasses." Karl Pilkington speaks with a ludicrously thick accent that the NYTimes said sounded like Ringo Starr underwater. The animation, too, is fitting and can often be funny, although this show couldn't be called a cartoon. A cartoon is usually made by writers who know they are writing a cartoon, whereas this was a podcast that was animated well after the fact, giving many of the all-too-rare site-gags a very lackluster feel.
The funniest parts of the show are when Karl Pilkington is let off-leash and allowed to rant on a variety of subjects, revealing levels of ignorance heretofore reserved to invertebrates or lower-mammals. Pilkington is so stupid that some reviewers have suggested that he himself is playing a character, but he clearly is not. For instance, during one discussion, it becomes quite clear that Pilkington believes human beings and dinosaurs existed concurrently, with humans having domesticated dinosaurs like dogs. Gervais and Merchant comment that Pilkington has seen one to many episodes of the Flintstones. Later Pilkington regales Gervais and Merchant with the tale of the first chimp in space – that the chimp was taught to operate the spacecraft itself. Even when told he is absolutely wrong, Pilkington tends to believe he is right, despite what he hears. Which is strange because he obviously has believed something so ludicrous in the first place.
The problem is that the show is mean-spirited in general. It isn't a celebration of Pilkington's wonderfully quirky mind, it's a vehicle to make fun of him, sometimes quite brutally. Every time Pilkington speaks, Gervais and Merchant are pulling back the strings on their bows of derision, waiting to let fly a barrage of insults at Pilkington's first mistake or stupid statement. Sometimes they can be funny and even Pilkington will laugh, but other times they can be downright mean. And as stupid as Pilkington is – which is very, very stupid – you can't help but feel bad for the guy. After all, it's not his fault he's stupid. Must he be humiliated for our entertainment?
What's worse is that there are a handful of times when what Pilkington is saying isn't really that stupid at all. Of course, he puts forth ideas in a profoundly stupid way, but sometimes he hits on actual ideas or theories that have the potential to be discussed in an intellectual manner. Furthermore, sometimes he actually makes good points. But Gervais and Merchant would never admit to that. For them, he is a pull-string doll, there only to recite lines and nothing more.
The shows biggest problem is the format itself. Being a podcast means that it was meant to be listened to, and already lacks the fast-paced, quick cutting-edge of modern television. Though the animations try to make up for this slowness, often the ideas that are animated are truncated, interrupted, or just bland. Though the show is edited, it needs to be edited more, because even though there are moments of funniness, the show gets bogged down in long expository conversations. In other words, it's often boring. And, while you're bored, it's hard to keep up with any conversation no matter how much Gervais and Merchant are smugly snickering to themselves.
So it turns out that The Ricky Gervais Show is a lot like Ricky Gervais himself. Often amusing, but not always laugh-out-loud funny. And because it is based on the mocking of a good-natured individual, the show can come across as malicious and even condescending. For if Gervais and Merchant view Pilkington with such disdain, imagine how they view their fans and worse, us, the viewers?