Monday, 3 October 2011


Monday, 3 October 2011
*½ (out of four)
In the filmed setup for An Idiot Abroad 2, Ricky Gervais mocks long-suffering friend Karl Pilkington for thinking a Bucket List is an inventory of experiences the terminally ill set out to achieve in the months before they die. Instead, he claims it's just a list of things most people want to do in their lifetime, irrespective of health or age. Guess what: pompous Ricky Gervais is wrong, and "ignoramus" Karl Pilkington is right. But you'd never know Karl's right, because the show wants to cast Karl as a moron nobody should take seriously. And while Ricky has writing partner Stephen Merchant to back him up, who fights Karl's corner? There's something a little uncomfortable about the treatment of Karl, at times, but given that he's a middle-aged man paid to travel around the world and tolerate Ricky and Stephen's panto bullying, I can't get too upset.

An Idiot Abroad was an interesting twist on the celebrity travelogue format from last year, which became an unexpected hit for Sky1. For the uninitiated, Karl Pilkington's the ex-producer of Ricky and Stephen's XFM radio shows, which became a record-breaking podcast that recently spawned a HBO cartoon. I find Karl to be a likable and amusing fellow, but his humour only truly comes to life in three-way banter. Consequently, An Idiot Abroad isn't the best format for him, because once the novelty of seeing Karl grumble and rant about foreigners wears off, the joke starts to feel stretched. At best you get about seven funny quips every hour from Karl, and the rest is entertaining but forgettable.

Obviously, Series 2 retires the premise to send Karl to visit the Seven Wonders Of The World, and instead hits upon a less focused idea with more variety: giving Karl various experiences that typically appear on people's Bucket Lists. That includes bungee jumping, spending a night on a desert island, swimming with dolphins, experiencing zero gravity, travelling on the Trans-Siberian Express, wing-walking, meeting a gorilla, whale watching, climbing Mount Fuji, etc. It's a definite improvement for the show, but the downside is that Karl's unlikely to do half the things on the list!

In episode 1, Karl refused to bungee jump in New Zealand and instead leaped a few metres off a local tribe's wooden construct; in episode 2, Karl used a few health concerns to talk his way out of flying in a Russian jet to experience zero gravity, and sent a packet of Revels up in his stead. So all we've really see him do after two weeks is sit bored on a cramped train, get buried underground while breathing through a hosepipe, wrestle with Mongolians in a stupid outfit, visit a tribe who worship Prince Philip, and get spun around in a cosmonaut's centrifuge (to an unimpressive 1G). Half of those things wouldn't appear on a genuine Bucket List, and the other half doesn't make for especially good TV.

I don't know, the show just doesn't work for me now. To be honest, An Idiot Abroad only delivered three worthwhile episodes (China, India, Egypt), and the rest was a case of diminishing returns. It would be improved if Karl was more willing to have a go at everything, but even then I'm not sure the joke of sending a misanthrope around the world to complain about things that have been orchestrated to make him get upset is anywhere near as funny as Gervais and Merchant think.

Do you find Karl Pilkington's irritation funny? Is the format of the show one you enjoy, or is it just slowly proving that Karl's only funny when Ricky and Stephen are around to cajole him into arguments? Half the appeal of Karl's wit was how it came from a position of inexperience and ignorance, so by broadening his horizons they're actually undoing the innocence and naivety we've enjoyed till now. A few more years and those irregular podcasts are going to sound very different, coming from a man who's actually seen and done more things than his giggling tormentors.

Meanwhile, over on ITV1, Billy Connolly's about to finish travelling along America's Route 66. And while arguably not as amusing as Idiot Abroad, it's a show that's good for a chuckle, has proven educational, and is often oddly poignant. Coincidentally, Karl will also be following Route 66 himself in a future episode, so it'll make for an interesting comparison. I'm guessing Karl will be grumbling about the length of the road.

AN IDIOT ABROAD 2. Sky1, Fridays, 9PM.