Judge Erich Asperschlager has a diary allergy.
"For the past few years, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, and Karl Pilkington have been meeting regularly for a series of pointless conversations. This is one of them."
Hot off the first season of BBC megahit The Office, comedian Ricky Gervais and collaborator Stephen Merchant returned to their radio roots with a series of shows on XFM. It was there that they met a producer named Karl Pilkington. Like John meeting Paul, or Elvis meeting a fried peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwich, it was a powerful combination—the beginning of a creative partnership that changed the landscape of entertainment forever. At the very least, they made a bunch of really funny podcasts.
The Ricky Gervais Show began in 2005 as a series of 12 free podcasts, followed by several more "seasons" of for-pay episodes, video shorts, and specials. The 2007 edition of The Guiness Book of World Records named it the most downloaded podcast, ever. If you've seen Gervais's work, you know he's a funny guy. So is his frequent co-writer and Extras co-star Stephen Merchant. But if you've ever heard their podcast you know that the real star of the show is Karl "did he really just say that out loud?!" Pilkington.
Mocked mercilessly by Gervais and Merchant for his perfectly round head and outlandish theories, Karl Pilkington is a bonafide oddity. His brain flits from impossible inventions and misunderstood "facts" to mundane stories with bizarre twists. On The Ricky Gervais Show, Gervais and Merchant play the role of scientists in lab coats, asking questions and prodding Karl down twisted mental pathways that lead to monkeys flying spaceships, reverse aging, and fistfights between seven-year-olds. It's gut-bustingly funny stuff. I actually had to stop listening to the podcasts on my way to work because I was laughing so hard I thought I might lose control of the car. True story.
In 2010, HBO adapted The Ricky Gervais Show into a TV series, taking audio from the early podcasts and adding a layer of Hanna Barbera-style animation—a mixed-media experiment that's out on DVD, as The Ricky Gervais Show: The Complete First Season.
Facts of the Case
Two discs, thirteen episodes:
• "Knob at Night"
• "Glass Houses"
• "The Diary"
• "The Jockey"
• "The Fight"
This show is aimed at people who never heard the original podcasts. Considering the relative popularity of podcasts in 2005, that's a big audience. Even if you were on the bleeding edge of RSS-fed internet audio, chances are it's been a while since you last heard Karl read the "Monkey News." Either way, The Ricky Gervais Show is a riot.
The animation is mostly additive, bringing bizarre stream-of-conscious scenarios to life in a cutesy way. It isn't a perfect fit with the source material. The drawings are a little too clean for the messy live radio sound, and the bits where Stephen, Ricky, and Karl are sitting around talking aren't nearly as interesting as the imagined sequences. Still, I admire the creativity behind this project. Even though Gervais and HBO are essentially repackaging existing content, they've managed to make it fresh. Rather than simply add a visual layer to the podcasts, the original recordings have been re-edited, cutting out extraneous material, tightening up the conversations where necessary, and combining segments from different podcasts to help them flow better.
The Ricky Gervais Show: The Complete First Season looks great on DVD. The 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is bright, colorful, and sharp—ideal for this kind of simple, retro-style animation. Because this material was originally recorded for an internet audience, the audio is a mixed bag. The added sound effects are crisp, but the dialogue has a slightly tinny quality.
The set comes with two rather disappointing extras: a minute-and-a-half bonus short created for the Channel 4 Comedy Gala; and a full episode storyboard for "Charity." Animation nuts might appreciate a behind-the-scenes peek, but the content is the same as the episode, only with still drawings instead of animation, and slightly sped up audio.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Although The Ricky Gervais Show is some of the funniest stuff its creators have ever done, Ricky and Steve's reaction to Karl can be borderline cruel. Karl doesn't seem to mind, but some audience members might.
The original Ricky Gervais Show podcasts got attention because of their namesake, but its popularity and financial success is mostly down to Karl Pilkington. In the very first episode, Ricky says the show is a way to show Karl off to the world at large, and I thank him for it. Some people have accused the podcasters of manufacturing the "Karl" character, but I believe there's room enough in this world for someone this wonderfully unique to not only exist, but to have risen in the ranks of radio production. Even if it is all a lark, it's a supremely entertaining one.
Karl's theories may be bollocks. but the show isn't. Not guilty!
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