Two of the most amazingly talented, funny, and likable British stars are back where they best belong and playing in the land of comedy television once again. Who am I speaking of? Well, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, of course.
Sir Ricky Gervais is without a doubt the more famous of the two men- especially in America; but few will argue against the fact that both men are equally deserving of credit for the combined work they’ve done in TV and film in the past. And, most famous of all their combined work is the writing, directing, producing and, oh yeah, ‘created by’ credits they earned on arguably the most successful BBC show in history – simply titled, ‘The Office.’
The show, which was not only wildly popular but critically acclaimed, also made both men massively famous and well respected in the inner-circles of the television production industry. They helped change the basic ideas people had about the everyday TV situational comedy, and for that alone they deserve a round on all of us regular viewers.
Gervais’ and Merchant’s latest televised comedic efforts are currently being spent wrapping up production on their second original series for the premier cable network, HBO. Their first show for HBO was the painfully funny 2005 comedy, ‘Extras;’ but now Gervais and Merchant have returned to with something that’s both extremely different from all other shows that are currently on television; and, yet, extremely similar to a past show in their own work history
Their newest creation is entitled, ‘The Ricky Gervais Show,’ which is the same title, as some will notice, that their famous series of podcasts had a few years back. Those original audio podcasts starred both Gervais and Merchant, along with a third man – whose only real entertainment industry credit before doing the podcast was being a former XM radio producer. This mysterious third man, who would end up being not only the comedic twine that held the show together five series, but also the main reason for its worldwide internet popularity, was the daft and round-headed twat known as Karl Pilkinton.But why am I talking about a podcast from 2004? And why did Gervais and Merchant name their new show for HBO the same thing as their award winning (and Guinness Record Breaking) audio show? The answer to both questions is actually simple: Gervais’ and Merchant’s ‘new’ show is actually composed of old, audio-only shows that have now been fully animated, slightly edited, and overall been made even more phenomenal than ever before.
This fact becomes abundantly clear the first time you sit down to watch the show. You’ll notice near the end of your first episode that most of the 25 minutes you just watched took place with the characters occupying only one room. The show consists, week after week, of three Brits sitting around a blue table, drinking coffee, and having hilarious, non-scripted conversations. That’s it.
And, while this may not sound too exciting, what it lacks in overall thrills it more than makes up for in comedic genius, as well as multiple and genuine, laugh out loud moments. New viewers simply have to go into the show not expecting it to be anything like ‘South Park,’ ‘The Simpsons,’ or ‘Family Guy;’ and instead virginized audience members should expect an almost perfectly blended mixture of ‘basic, simple funny’ – made up of 3 parts stand-up and 1 part sketch comedy.
Stand-up, by its very nature, isn’t really exciting to watch; but, then again, you don’t go into a George Carlin or Bill Hicks routine expecting to be excited like you do a James Bond flick. You go in expecting to laugh – plain and simple. There are no moments in stand-up where you have character build-up, sexual tension or drama – it’s just pure, 100% comedy. ‘The Ricky Gervais Show,’ works marvels and marvelously as an almost-stand-up show, because it doesn’t try and be anything other than a half hour comedy routine.
The sketch comedy aspects of the show are, admittedly, few and far between to the naked eye; and most of them can best be described as ‘just something to watch while listening to funny dialogue.’ However, certain animated segments work very well. Some of the better ones even add a whole new level of hilarity to the already ridiculous things being said by one of the three men, and the colors and visuals just make everything you may have already loved about the original podcasts that much better.
The best example of how this works is consistently found during a weekly segment which is aptly called, ‘Monkey News.’ In this portion of the show you get exactly what you expect – animated ‘news’ stories that are both tear-jeerkingly funny and awkwardly awesome. Those both new and familiar with Karl Pilkington, who narrates the monkey-related segments each week, are treated during each new episode to animated smorgasbords of nonsense. Cartoons each week depict chimps wearing suits, racing horses, cheating with housewives, putting out building fires, and doing other ludicrous things – things which Pilkington, believe it or not, actually thinks are 100% true.
Karl Pilkington – despite being in the presence of two true comedic geniuses – really, is the main star of the show. No matter how insane Pilkington’s ideas may sound to any or all of us viewers, they somehow make sense to him; and because of this he never shuts up or backs down in a debate with Ricky or Stephen. In fact, at the end of one of Pilkington’s many, random mumblings most new audience members will probably find themselves in such a state of shock and awe that they are literally dumbfounded to the point where his musings actually begin to make sense. You feel, at times, like Karl’s either the most brilliant man that’s ever lived; or like he’s tricked you somehow into becoming just as equally and brilliantly stupid as him.
Those unfamiliar with Karl Pilkinton, his thoughts, or his genuinely side-splitting journal entries (read aloud by Stephen Merchant starting in episode 7 of the HBO series), will understand within the first five minutes of hearing him speak that he is either a mad genius – equal in rank with the likes of Mitch Hedberg and Stephen Wright – or nothing more than a complete, round-headed buffoon – as Gervais often laments.
But, even though Pilkington is the two headed freak everyone loves to go see at the Circus – and both Gervais and Merchant repeat this sentiment repeatedly on the show themselves – he is only tamed and controlled by the wit of Merchant and the insistent picking of Gervais.
Stephen Merchant knows just the right moments to slip his quick, passive aggressive, comedic comments into the ramblings of Pilkington; while Gervais, on the other hand, just points out, over and over again, what an idiot Karl is for thinking up devices like ‘a watch that knows when you’re going to die,’ and that works ‘just by popping it on your wrist.’ You get the feeling, though, that even with both Gervais and Merchant being occasionally verbally abusive to Karl, that all three men genuinely like each other and really have a great time just being in the same room.
‘The Ricky Gervais Show,’ is, in some ways, a lot like a reality TV show; but instead of watching three close friends do things you hate and loathe (See: ‘The Hills’), the ‘The Ricky Gervais Show’ is only real comedy. Everything, regardless of what episode you first watch is almost universally funny; and you don’t have to have any previous knowledge of any of the three men talking in order to laugh along with them, or at them, as the case may be.
The HBO, animated version of the ‘Gervais Show’ does nothing but add to the original; and while there may not be a lot actually happening on your TV screen during an episode, there is still a lot happening in the conversations the trio of men have each week. There are literally hundreds of jokes you won’t hear or pick up until a second or third go around.
True, this is a show you can turn on and look away from for long periods of time without losing much of the show’s overall comedic impact — and in this way it’s both a fantastic departure from the norm as well as a seemingly inappropriately formatted TV show. However, before you decide to skip this phenomenal short and sweet weekend series do yourself a favor and at least watch the first episode or download the first podcast from iTunes of the audio-only podcast. For less than a dollar, and by words alone, you can easily figure out if this comedy series will be worth your DVR’s time.
‘The Ricky Gervais Show’ is, quite simply, a short, basic and unscripted comedy show that’s absolutely brilliant, genuinely funny, and completely worth watching for a half hour each week.
Check it out – and also feel free to leave any criticism, complaints or questions you have about the series and/or the stars of ‘The Ricky Gervais Show’ in the comments section below.