By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 2010; C04
"The Ricky Gervais Show" is the very one that the randy British comedian kept flogging and touting as he fumbled his way through hosting duties at last month's Golden Globe Awards. One assumed he was doing a sendup of shameless acts of self-promotion, which nevertheless fell flat as a comedy bit, and Gervais seemed genuinely concerned no one would watch this new show. (Is he daft? It's a cartoon with Ricky Gervais in it? As if we somehow wouldn't watch it?)
Unlike "Extras" or "The Office" (the original version), "The Ricky Gervais Show" has been repurposed from episodes of a popular radio talk show and podcast, in which Gervais and his comedic partner, Stephen Merchant, frenetically free-associate on current events, philosophical questions and any mentions of monkeys in the news.
Using the audio from the radio episodes and then supplying a sort of 1960s-style Hanna-Barbera wash of cheap animation to more fully illustrate the inanity of their conversations, Gervais has landed on something quite special that can be scorchingly funny. (Others may find it to be a bizarrely lazy use of Gervais's talents.)
The real star is the show's third participant -- one Karl Pilkington, a 37-year-old radio producer who speaks in the eternally skeptical, naive monotone of pub-house blokedom.
No matter how Pilkington expresses his ideas and opinions (in sweetly absurd or misinformed tangents), Gervais and Merchant shriek in astonished laughter at what they view as Pilkington's ignorance. Thus, they are besotted by his unlimited ability to delight them. It's got to be one of the loudest shows on television, as Gervais and Merchant shout at Pilkington while he shares some of his thoughts and theories. To wit:
What if elderly humans gave birth to babies as a dying act, instead of the way human reproduction is currently done?
Or, how the other day he saw a homeless person of Asian descent. You never see that, do ya?
Or, the way NASA provided bananas to space monkeys so they would properly steer test rockets in orbit.
Even as a cartoon, Pilkington is a delightful discovery: He is the rube/savant, with his head rendered in perfectly spherical, Charlie Brown lines and his worldview expressed with a Charlie Brown glumness. The Gervais caricature (drawn as a Fred Flintstone derivation) gazes at him with chin in hand, hanging on every word, until he bursts:
"Bollocks! Complete rubbish! . . . There's NO WAY they made a SPACECRAFT with a BANANA DISPENSER!!" Gervais screams. (And of course, the Brit accents multiply the hilarity: space-crahft. Buh-nah-nah. It's like being trapped in an advanced philosophy seminar where the guest speaker is "Yellow Submarine"-era Ringo Starr, and half the audience is stoned and the other half is peeved.)
"You are an imbecile!" Gervais yells at Pilkington. (Actually, Gervais concedes in the first episode, "I've seen [Karl] blossom -- from an imbecile to an idiot.")
It's a funny kind of love, and if you didn't know better, you'd think that Gervais and Merchant -- with enough smarty pants between them to reinstate Britain as the leading exporter of intelligent irony -- are abusively picking on poor Pilkington. The whole thing is fraught with issues of class and education. But worry not. Pilkington, acting on the success of the initial radio show, is cashing in on his newfound fame with books of his, um, wisdom. You can now wear his finest quotes on a T-shirt.
In a later episode, Merchant asks Pilkington what superpowers he'd like to have, if he were a superhero, "and remember, you've already got opposable thumbs."
"My only question," Pilkington responds, "is why have I been picked?"
Which busts Gervais up all over again. If this show catches on, we have a new way to describe a fantastically dumb idea or notion: That's so Karl Pilkington.
The Ricky Gervais Show
(30 minutes) debuts Friday
at 9 p.m. on HBO.