“We used to rule the world before you,” British entertainer Ricky Gervais joked by way of an introduction to a large room dominated by bewildered American A-listers when his own vastly superior, original BBC version of The Office garnered two awards at the Golden Globe ceremony in 2003.
And the fact that even eight years later he still hasn't truly crossed over to the states as an A-list leading man with the fabulously funny flops Ghost Town and The Invention of Lying, hasn't hindered the hard-working Gervais in the slightest.
Simply put, Gervais' status as the cool outsider is far more viable, given the fact that as I write this, he's just hosted the Golden Globes for the second year in a row; having successfully transitioned from the guy sitting at the table near the back of the auditorium to his new home base as the comedic commentator on the stage. Of course, whether they invite him back again next year is a different story altogether...
Additionally, one of the greatest things about the prolific Gervais is that he's still gaining new fans all the time who are eager to have stumbled on something he's created in an overwhelmingly diverse career, which has spilled into several mediums including radio, TV, film, internet, literature, reality, music, stand-up and more since the start of the twenty-first century.
Last year, this became the case on the small screen once again with the launch of an animated primetime series based on Gervais' ridiculously popular 2005-08 podcast, which earned its own Guinness Book worthy record for the most downloads of all time. Gervais and creative collaborator Stephen Merchant's returned to the network that had broadcast their post-Office series Extras to bring us something old and something new all at the same time on HBO.
Yet while the content may be roughly five years old, even those familiar with the famous recordings will be able to appreciate The Ricky Gervais Show in its trimmed down, twenty-two minute, fourteen-episode first season DVD format. Far from being dated, The Ricky Gervais Show is, as the opening narration promises, truly comprised of “a series of pointless conversations” shared by Gervais, Merchant, and their offbeat stream-of-extremely-odd-consciousness prone colleague Karl Pilkington.
Moreover, the title is something of a misnomer for we quickly ascertain that Pilkington is not only the actual star of the podcast but most likely its driving force and reason for being. Much like the philosophy that if one has -- for whatever reason – lived an extraordinary life, they have no right to keep it to themselves, when Merchant and Gervais met Pilkington (who may very well be the eighth wonder of the world... unless he's just a brilliant performance artist), they knew they had to unleash “the round headed buffoon” on the masses.
The series set-up segues nicely from the live action introduction of the stars getting situated around the table to its subsequent spin on a Hanna-Barbera styled cartoon. Drawn with a bright yet unobtrusive color palette to heighten the visual language of the discussion and punctuate the jokes subtly with italics rather than full-blown overwhelming exclamation points, the effect is low-key and the Emmy winning design scheme effortlessly balances out the vocal pitch of ridiculous topic choice combined with Gervais's hysterically infectious hyena pitched laugh.
Hanna-Barbera's influence is both instantly recognizable and seemingly devised to pay homage to Pilkington's passion for fictitious “Monkey News” (which becomes a regular segment during the first season) along with his interpretation of the facts regarding the evolution of man, which have more in common with The Flintstones than Charles Darwin.
In fact by coloring the world of The Ricky Gervais Show with the “crayons” of Karl Pilkington, it makes the (at times) mercilessly cruel ribbing of Pilkington by Gervais and Merchant much more bearable, since it's all presented matter-of-factly and from the point-of-view of Pilkington so we're seeing the world through his illogical, irreverent, imaginative eyes.
Whether he's trying to persuade Merchant and Gervais that the television was the only necessary invention made after 1900, explaining how NASA trained chimps to pilot rocket ships with buttons that pop-up with bananas while in flight, or wondering if a T-Rex could be the answer to overcrowding, Pilkington is a man without a filter. Likewise, he's a man of constant mystery as we remain uncertain if he's putting on an act or telling it like he thinks it is.
Pilkington is at the center of the podcasts as the recipient of endless listener questions e-mailed to the guys and the object of both incessant ridicule and sheer fascination by his co-hosts. Additionally, he's the most quotable one of the three given his penchant for occasional Narnia inspired language involving cobblers, potters and toffee and his commitment to beginning even the wildest stories with the phrase "there were these ____ knocking about."
And throughout the first non sequitur filled season of diary entries and fake news, Pilkington is baffled by sexy metal pants from “ancient times,” and filled with advice for “the Papua People” (who should move) as well as kids whom he feels should learn about dishwashers on Mars rather than mathematics.
To this end, the series generates a decidedly different kind of uncomfortable brand of humor than evidenced in Extras and The Office. Admittedly you do fear that you're witnessing genuine bullying as opposed to mates having a laugh at one another who've actually planned things out or agreed to exaggerate their “characters” ahead of time.
Repeatedly during the middle of the first season, The Ricky Gervais Show can be accused of taking things a little too far in terms of the treatment of its babbling “buffoon,” both in letting him ramble past the point of humor and in urging us to laugh at far more often than with Pilkington.
Nonetheless, overall this is a free-spirited, freewheeling celebration of individual point-of-view, freedom of expression, and fulfilling the overwhelming need to let your “freak flag fly.” And now that it's been released on a 2-disc DVD, hopefully it's yet another treasure to be discovered by future fans of Gervais, Merchant and Pilkington as well as easily relished by those who adore the laugh-happy outsider that is Ricky Gervais who hails from the country that used to rule the world and still may do so in terms of comedy.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.