Big decision last night: Did you watch some of the world’s best athletes duke it out on all sorts of frozen surfaces, or one of the planet’s funniest men unveil his latest TV creation? Given that my colleague Mandi Bierly is all over the former topic, let’s touch on the latter. We got our first peek at HBO’s The Ricky Gervais Show and while it didn’t elevate itself into the rarefied air of The Office or Extras, it had some daffy laughs and a breezy, retro charm.
Most of you with iTunes know the premise; this is an animated representation of Gervais’ wildly successful podcasts, in which he and Stephen Merchant (his talented beanstalk of a writing partner from The Office and Extras) sit around and chat up/interview Karl Pilkington, their old producer. The subdued yet rambling Pilkington has a, um, unique perspective of the world; call him creatively halfwitted. Dude wishes inventions had ended 100 years ago (“Do you need a plane really? Wouldn’t it be better if we all stuck where we should be instead of all traveling about?”), and peddles a supposedly true story about an astronaut monkey who was trained with a button that dispensed bananas on a rocket ship, and later became so distraught that it couldn’t return to space that “it sort of ended up killing itself because it could never get that buzz that it got.” (I also enjoyed his comment: “You know how like they say people have sixth senses? There’s loads more than that.”)
The show centers on Gervais and Merchant goading Pilkington on and then skewering him; Gervais calls him “braindead” and one of his theories “the ramblings of someone you’d find by themselves in a hospital, eating flies.” (As Gervais told EW, “I really do think the world’s got another Homer Simpson, but this one is totally real.” Behold the irony that Pilkington is animated here.) Merchant is slightly more restrained in his barbs, deadpanning lines like “You know The Flinstones is only partly based on fact.” You do feel a smidge sorry for Pilkington—just look at that hangdog animation above—but when he’s talking sincerely about a mug in a tavern that winds up killing anyone who touches it, he is, of course, serving himself up on a platter. I’ve only heard a little of their wonderful podcasts (believe me, it’s on my list), but I’m guessing fans of the audio-only incarnation might argue that the fun is to imagine all the wild scenarios in their heads rather than have them animated. The animation, while cute, was sometimes too literal and distracting. I did like the idea of Hitler’s and Nero’s hands meeting over a pig in a blanket, though. Bottom line: I’ll be checking out another installment.
PopWatchers, what did you think of the Return of Ricky? Will you be tuning in again next week or sticking to the podcasts? And for you diehard fans, what’s your favorite all-time Pilkington line?
PHOTO CREDIT: HBO