'The Ricky Gervais Show' -- An Early Look
by Joel Keller, posted Feb 18th 2010 5:02PM
Anyone who's listened to Ricky Gervais' podcasts or audiobooks knows that a) Karl Pilkington is an idiot and that b) Gervais and Stephen Merchant have made their fascination over Pilkington into gut-clutching comedy.
Why was the podcast so funny (and popular)? Because Pilkington just said stuff that was completely off-the-wall in such a straight-faced, matter-of-fact way, like when he talked about a time in history when "cavemen and dinosaurs were knocking about." These nonchalant statements made Gervais and Merchant -- especially Gervais -- convulse with laughter, which emphasized just how ridiculous Pilkington's statements really were.
So the challenge to Gervais and Merchant: How do you bring the twisted "genius" of Pilkington to television? Animation, of course! The result, 'The Ricky Gervais Show,' which premieres on HBO Friday at 9PM ET (you can register and watch the first full episode here), brings the podcast to life in a way that will satisfy both fans of the podcast and those who are hearing Ricky, Stephen and Karl for the first time.
Gervais and Merchant hit on the idea of animating the podcast when listeners would send them animated videos of podcast episodes. The animation style they settled on is very reminiscent of late-fifties-to-early-sixties Hanna-Barbera and Jay Ward cartoons; Gervais has even described his animated self as hybrid of Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble, according to USA Today. Merchant looks more like a tall, gawky version of Mr. Peabody's pet human Sherman.
Karl looks like... Karl. But what the animation does is soften Karl, making the scary-dumb stuff coming out of his mouth sound less frightening, just like the disembodied voice of Karl does on the podcast. Put the voice together with the real-life vision of an uncomfortable Karl, as we've seen on promotional videos for the show, and the viewer feels a lot squirmier.
What the animation also does is help us visualize either some of the funny stuff that Gervais and Merchant cook up off the top of their heads or the weird stuff Karl is concocting in his brain. The following clip shows an example of the latter:
The three episodes that HBO sent for review were chock full of the features that made the podcast so popular, including a semi-regular dose of "Monkey News," where any of the three hosts riff on monkey-related stories that are either plucked off the internet or sent in by listeners. While Gervais and Merchant tell the monkey stories and spin their jokes from there, Pilkington's monkey stories are filtered through his own perspective, making for some of the funniest moments in the three episodes.
For instance, he tells a story about a Russian TV show being hosted in an emergency by a monkey; while it can't possibly be true, and Gervais and Merchant tell Pilkington he's nuts, Pilkington just plows on with a more and more unbelievable story that somehow ends up incorporating Cher in the mix.
What's always been winning about Gervais and Merchant's comedy is that it's grounded in common-man experiences. And we've all worked with or went to school with someone who has such a different perspective from the norm that the color of the sky in their world can't possibly be blue. Which is what makes the pair's talks with Pilkington so damned funny. That and the monkey talk; monkeys are always funny.