Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 3, 2011)
After two successful TV series - The Office and Extras - what does Ricky Gervais do for a televised follow-up? Why, the only natural thing: an animated show based on podcasts, of course!
The 13 episodes found here started back in 2005, and each one features Gervais, his longtime acting/writing/producing partner Stephen Merchant, and moron-about-town Karl Pilkington. The programs demonstrate a consistent format. Rendered in animated form, we see much of the trio as they chat in a recording studio. In addition, many animated cutaways illustrate the concepts we hear discussed.
Despite the series’ title, Pilkington dominates the conversations. Essentially Merchant and Gervais act as inquisitors; they bring up topics and prompt Pilkington to spout his insane notions. Actually, Merchant is closer to the moderator role, as he maintains the calmer/drier personality. While Gervais throws out his own questions, much of the time he does little more than laugh at Pilkington and call him an idiot.
Which ironically makes Gervais the weakest link in his own show. Most of the series’ comedy comes from the nutty concepts contributed by Pilkington, so the star doesn’t have a lot to add. Yeah, he provides some witty asides and riffs, but in truth, he really doesn’t do much other than giggle and insult Pilkington, and that gets old – especially because Gervais boasts such a shrill and annoying laugh.
This means I suspect the show would work better with just Merchant and Pilkington. Or maybe not – since Gervais is there and yammers a whole lot, we’ll never know how it would’ve fared without its star. Nonetheless, I can’t say that I think Gervais adds much, and I can’t overstate how much I dislike his laugh; if they blasted his giggle at Osama in his cave, the terrorist would surrender within minutes.
Despite some of these annoying elements, the program does amuse. Pilkington’s random observations are usually pretty entertaining, and they keep on keeping on; though it seems like the well should run dry at some point, his idiocy just doesn’t quit. Pilkington delivers his nonsense in such a dry, deadpan manner that he doesn’t telegraph the jokes; it’s hard to know if Pilkington is really stupid or if he’s just created a vivid character. (I’d guess the truth lies somewhere in the middle.)
I’m not sure how much the animated format adds to the podcasts. On one hand, a good 90 percent of the humor emanates from the dialogue, so there’s only so much the cartoon elements can contribute; at times, the format seems like a gimmick just to allow the producers to put the audio recordings on TV.
On the other hand, the animated tidbits do occasionally add to the material. While most of them just illustrate the onscreen action, some add little gags and references that ensure they have value independent of the audio. I still think the animation doesn’t do a ton to embellish the material, but it does help at times.
In the end, The Ricky Gervais Show presents general amusement, but fans shouldn’t expect it to live up to the highs of Extras or The Office. It’s a pleasant diversion and that’s about it.