I guess if you were worried that Ricky Gervais’ constant berating of Karl Pilkington on his quite entertaining program was mean spirited – no way to treat a friend – I think it is sufficient to say that Karl is decidedly in on the joke. This is not to say he was playing a “character” precisely – but his role on the program was to be the buffoon, and it has done quite well for him careerwise. In that same vein, Gervais speculated that it might be fun to take Karl – provincial, Chicken Tikka eating consummate Brit Karl – out and about. So thus emerges An Idiot Abroad, the Science Channel series where Karl Pilkington is sent to the Seven Wonders of the World by Ricky and Stephen Merchant. **
** This is not the classic Seven Wonders of the World, which would be rather boring considering only the Egyptian Pyramids are still around, but more based on the New Seven Wonders of the World list. Either way, the sites chosen for the show are definitely cool. So is stealing Joe Posnanski’s writing gambit. I am done now. **
The concept clearly is very promising. The first episode, they introduce Karl to the Great Wall of China. Karl is certainly reluctant go – I am not sure he sees the utility of travel at all. In a way he is a xeonophobe – his own routine and bubble provide all of the entertainment he needs. Anyway, the show is arranged like a travel documentary crossed with a Mission: Impossible episode, where Karl is not given his itinerary in advance. Actually, the show is not specifically a travel documentary in that the foreign nation is not the subject so much as Karl’s experience of it. Of course, that is the inspiration. Karl himself is a very funny narrator – sort of a combination of a bump on a log and a legitimate Huck Finn sort of innocent. He certainly sees these things as aliens, and not normal – but since that is kind of the point of the enterprise, it is hard to find it offensive.
Certainly the fish out of water stuff is a little hackneyed. When Karl hems and haws at the Indian toilet – it is a fairly easy Ugly Brit sort of joke to say – the cultural exoticism if you will. That said, when he does go to some of the beautiful sights, and deadpans “it’s all right”, that might be the highest compliment a traveler can give. Comically, this is not particularly inspired, but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. Karl plays his persona very well – as I think the reader probably gleans from this review. However, you can also see him smiling a bit … it is hard for non-fans of the Ricky Gervais Show to see it, but I think you can see Karl smiling inwardly a bit. There is a modicum of put on, which is a little encouraging. It’s nice to know a guy who gets to travel like he does is not THAT much of an idiot.