sat 20/07/2024

The Ricky Gervais Show, E4 | reviews, news & interviews

The Ricky Gervais Show, E4

The Ricky Gervais Show, E4

Transition from podcast to TV gives added animation - and more to laugh at

Round-table discussion: Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington

A show that began as that hippest of 21st-century technology, a podcast, gains new life in a transfer to the dinosaur of television having been given a makeover with old-school Hanna-Barbera-style cartooning.

The Ricky Gervais Show started life on the Guardian website in 2005, where Gervais and his long-time collaborator Stephen Merchant sat in a studio and talked to - well goaded, really - their former radio producer Karl Pilkington, the “little round-headed buffoon" from Manchester. After it became the most downloaded podcast in the world, America’s HBO channel picked it up and fashioned this new format.

The podcasts were filmed but on a non-broadcast-quality camera, so a few seconds into the programme the screen is swallowed in a colour wash reminiscent of Walt Disney’s introductions to his films, and the three men become their cartoon selves, with excellent animation by a team led by director Stephen Sawran. The result is some arresting visuals that are often as funny as the anecdotes they illustrate, sometimes funnier.

At times it should be called “The Karl Pilkington Show” as his very odd ideas about life loom large - he would prefer it if human progress had stopped 50 years ago, thinks art is pointless now cameras exist ("It's one or the other"), and he has spent a lot of time musing about the finer details of how monkeys might operate in space. While Gervais cracks up every other sentence and Merchant allows himself the odd bemused chuckle, the monotone Pilkington maintains his deadpan delivery at all times. His shtick is essentially about being gullible and quirky, and if that is a winning combo for you, you’ll enjoy this show.

In last week’s opener to the second series, Pilkington talked about his idea for a feature film - “How bad a state is the film industry in if they’re coming to you for ideas?" asked Gervais - in which “Clive Warren” (he meant Clive Owen) and Rebecca De Mornay would appear as a couple, but Warren/Owen dies in the opening frames and she donates half her brain to save him. On and on it went, a seemingly endless babble of unconnected and semi-coherent thoughts - “If you just talk, I find that your mouth comes out with stuff,” said Pilkington - as Gervais and Merchant picked holes in his putative screenplay. It’s a form of bullying, of course, as Pilkington is encouraged to make ever more daft suggestions and a bigger fool of himself, but the affection between the three is obvious.

Last night, the thread was equally preposterous as Pilkington mused on meeting his doppelgänger - “How would I know which one I was?” - which Gervais thought was possibly the stupidest question ever posed, but then he thinks that every week. A regular feature, Karl’s Diary, followed, in which Pilkington complained about the affection Gervais lavished on his cat, and the pointlessness of owning a salamander, or a lizard as he would have it. But the highlight was a genuinely hilarious story told by Merchant about peeing in the sea off Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, and losing his shorts and his glasses as a big wave came in. Fortunately, the animators reined themselves in when illustrating this one...

Essentially this is three blokes talking down the pub, albeit two of them having created one of the finest pieces of television ever made in The Office, but the cartoons nicely underscore what are frequently very funny anecdotes or surreal flights of fantasy.

Pilkington mused on meeting his doppelgänger - “How would I know which one I was?” he said

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Your take on Karl's movie is incorrect. The idea was that once Clive Warren dies, Rebecca would receive part of his brain. This would allow her to hear his thoughts as well as hers…close! Your take is much more believable as a Hollywood script. I guess that is why you're not called a 'bald headed mank twat'!

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