Splitsider

Monday, March 14th, 2011

An Idiot Abroad: Karl Comes Home

“My ears have been overworked. Drums, singing, whistles, chanting, dogs, helicopters, gays.” Karl was in Brazil when he made this list, but it’s clear throughout the final episode of An Idiot Abroad that Karl felt this way about everywhere he went.

In the eighth episode, Karl comes home to have a chat with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Most recap episodes show footage from the show that you’ve already seen, with clever little montages about certain charactes or events; or worse, outtakes and wacky behind the scenes footage. Fortunately, An Idiot Abroad’s finale played more like an episode of The Ricky Gervais Show. A conversation that centers around Gervais and Merchant provoking Karl into somehow topping himself with stupid comments.

“If you’re not happy looking a knob in the face, there’s something wrong.” The most interesting thing about classic Karl Pilkington quotes (and this is sure to become one) is that if you take them out of context they sound absolutely ridiculous. In the case of the “knob in the face,” Pilkington was referring to people who are uncomfortable with nakedness in a gym. Spawned from a conversation about Celso, the cross-dresser in Brazil, the topic took a turn when Gervais and Merchant realized that they could trip Karl up into saying something absurd. Things like “If you eat more than six bananas, it will kill you. That’s a fact.”

Getting Karl to say something ridiculous is a fan favorite from the podcast. But to kick it up for television broadcast, Ricky and Steve shoved Karl into the art of pantomime and improv. Granted, Karl started all of these bits himself, trying to explain his statements or justifying his actions. After stating that babies in China had square heads and then explaining that this was “so they don’t roll out of their cots”. He throws up his hands and acts like a child with a square head. Ricky makes him repeat this action several times while staring at the camera, shaking his head. It’s hilarious. Improvisation is hard for even the most seasoned of performers and comics, so you can imagine the problems that Karl has with it. When talking about the staged kidnapping in Israel, Karl explains that you need a code word, so that if you’re kidnapped, your family will know they’ve really got you. Unfortunately for Karl, Gervais insists on acting out this phone call, especially after learning that Karl’s code word is “Congress tart.” It ends with Karl giving up as the kidnapper, saying he’s sick of his kidnap victim (Karl).

While the episode did use some previously seen footage to make a point, there was an entire trip that didn’t make the show. But it wasn’t an exotic trip to a foreign land. Ricky and Steve sent Karl to his favorite vacation spot from his childhood: a trailer park in Wales. According to Karl, his family used to go there every summer. When he first arrives, we see something rare for this show, happiness. Karl remembers his trips to the trailer fondly, and tries to explain the amazing features of the trailer; three bedrooms, a small fireplace, and a pull out sofa bed that he has some trouble demonstrating. But apparently after traveling the world, Wales has lost its appeal. While the trailer is congruous with everything we know about Karl, simple, easy and cheap, it appears that Karl can even be annoyed here. He talks to the cameraman, explaining that “normally [he’d] turn on the telly and relax, but [he] can’t do it now, with the cameras there.” It’s a rare breaking of the fourth wall for television shows.

It seems as though a running theme throughout the episode is explaining what happens behind the scenes. Ricky and Steve talk about how they chose locations and travel partners for the season. And the episode addressed the rumor that Karl Pilkington is actually an actor playing a part. Gervais and Merchant have both publicly addressed this before, claiming “if Karl were a character, we wouldn’t have wasted it on the radio.” Now that he’s on TV, Karl once again defends himself, “I wish I was an actor.” Also addressed is the shows’ main criticism that Ricky and Steve are “bullies” who pick on Karl. Karl’s response? “I’m nearly 40, don’t worry about me. But if you are worried, do something about it. Nobody’s done anything, so they can’t really think that much of it.” Even if you do view Gervais and Merchant’s actions as bullying, you can’t deny that it’s funny. Also, after watching every single episode, I can say I’ve never viewed it as malicious in any way. The shows’ two producers are just really good at making Karl uncomfortable, not that that’s hard.

My favorite part of the show was talk of a second series. Obviously, you can’t redo the seven wonders of the world. On the fly, Ricky pitched a show called Fools Gold. Ricky gives Karl a million and he has to double it within a year. Karl’s ideas? 5,000 scratch cards, buying a home in Bulgaria to flip it, and a new product based on attaching a saucer to a cup, “so you can put it down anywhere.” Off camera, there has been talk of a show called The Bucket List where Karl is sent to cross off things most popular on lists of things to do before you die. Although it seems incredibly derivative of An Idiot Abroad, I’m definitely in.

Joey Slamon lives in Los Angeles where she watches lots of television and produces this show.