It’s kind of hard to believe Karl Pilkington is still friends with Ricky Gervais. I have no problem believing that Pilkington’s regular guy, perpetually oblivious persona is real and not the comic creation of Gervais and Stephen Merchant. It’s tougher to accept that Pilkington continually allows himself to be on the butt end of Gervais’s gleeful hazing, seen in The Ricky Gervais Show and now on a global scale in An Idiot Abroad.
Even if Pilkington is a more willing participant than Gervais and Merchant let on, it doesn’t much change the fact that An Idiot Abroad is good and sometimes great television. The first series originally aired in the UK in 2010, and is now getting a stateside DVD release with the original uncensored British versions intact.
Apparently pitched to Pilkington as a travel show in which he visits the seven wonders of the world, An Idiot Abroad sees Gervais and Merchant continually pulling the rug from under him on every trip, inserting detours galore into his itinerary and subjecting the ever reluctant Pilkington to all manner of foreign cultural experiences. In the series introduction, Merchant explains that he feels travel broadens the mind and may do so for Pilkington; Gervais hopes he hates every minute.
To be certain, Pilkington hates a lot of it, whether visiting the Great Wall of China, the ancient site of Machu Picchu or Egypt’s great pyramids. But the primary pleasure of An Idiot Abroad is not discomfort comedy, even if that’s Gervais and Merchant’s trademark. Rather, Pilkington emerges as the ultimate anti-travelogue guide, refusing to wax poetic about the wonders of another world and instead remaining perpetually unimpressed.
Karl Pilkington is not so much an idiot as he is a man with absolutely no verbal filter. His complaints about foreign experiences are undeniably close-minded, but his unflinching honesty and regular Joe philosophizing are a comic gold mine. Even better are the moments where Pilkington begins to enjoy something in spite of himself — a dip in the Dead Sea, a night spent in a cave in Petra, a quick game of Connect Four with a Peruvian child. Make no mistake — Pilkington is hardly undergoing an epiphany of cultural awareness in any of these moments, but then again, too much self-awareness might ruin the unique Pilkington perspective, an unofficial wonder of the world itself.
The two-disc DVD set includes all eight episodes of the series, including a wrap-up show and an additional half-hour preview show that’s rather repetitive. A handful of deleted scenes are worth looking through for some additional nuggets of wisdom, while an animated photo gallery isn’t quite as essential.