TV Review: ‘The Ricky Gervais Show: Episode 1’

I guess it’s only natural that one of the most successful podcasts out there (and if that sounds like a dubious distinction, the BBC reported that in 2006 The Ricky Gervais Show podcast had received a staggering 8,000,000 downloads) would get its own show…though for reasons I’ll go into in a bit, I’m not entirely sure why.

The new HBO show, which premieres February 19th but is currently available for free download on iTunes, features flash animations of Office and Extras creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant antagonizing their co-host Karl Pilkington for his inane and often outlandish beliefs.

Episode #1 opens with Gervais and Merchant systematically debunking Pilkington’s assertion that technology reached its peak sometime around the turn of the 19th Century. “What about planes?” Merchant counters, “they let you go on holiday all over the world.” “No,” Pilkington shoots back, “because you go to places where if you don’t get a shot beforehand, you can die.”

Next Pilkington proposes a biological “advance” that would allow older women to have children the moment they died. “Who would take care of them?” Merchant usefully asks.

However the bulk of the episode consists of “Monkey News,” where Pilkington biographies the first monkey in space, who, after learning how to drive his ship to the moon, soon crumbles under the pressure and lack of respect before his life spirals out of control and he dies a lonely, drug-addled death…or something like that—at times it’s difficult to understand what Pilkington’s actually saying.

Finally, the last six minutes deal with a cursed beer mug and Pilkington’s description of a spooky dilapidated mansion that houses 3,000 dead flies (with a condom at the top) and a grocery list of baby supplies that ends with the unsettling note, “None of this needed, baby dead.”

Obviously the show is not without its share of charm: Pilkington’s thoughts are not only funny but disturbingly fascinating to behold—like a gaggle of Nazi platypuses (and even if you accept their existence, you’re further befuddled by how they came to be). Merchant is also engaging as the calm voice of reason counterbalancing Pilkington’s bizarre musings with confident logic and wit. And Gervais plays the audience surrogate, all the while laughing in disbelief.

However, I can’t recommend it. The Ricky Gervais Show is simply putting a face on a podcast that doesn’t need one. I’m perfectly happy listening to the three, but it’s not something I want to watch. If I’m going to invest a half hour of my time and attention, I’d prefer there to be a story or at least some kind of cohesive structure, otherwise, why not just have it on in the background while I clean, exercise, or drive the car? The podcast is ideal for that because I can drift in and out of their conversations and not miss much—and HBO’s The Ricky Gervais Show doesn’t offer much of a reason to do otherwise.

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