Just how mean-spirited is An Idiot Abroad? It’s a question I found myself pondering often as I watched the second series of the Sky1 travel comedy in which Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send the perpetually reluctant Karl Pilkington all over the globe to experience things he’d probably rather not. It’s clear that Gervais and Merchant thrill in torturing Pilkington from the comfortable environs of their office, whether that’s surprising the heights-averse man with bungee jumping or arranging and secretly filming his prostate exam. How despicable you find their behavior will likely correlate with how much you believe Pilkington himself is in on it. At the very least, he’s a willing participant.
None of that is especially germane to one’s enjoyment of the show, though. An Idiot Abroad isn’t hilarious because it delivers a steady stream of Schadenfreude; it’s hilarious because Pilkington makes the unlikeliest travel show host ever, a figure who’s rarely impressed and has little problem expressing why. Forced into unpleasant situations by his mischievous overlords, he nonetheless embraces almost everything like a good sport, delivering an unfiltered account of his discomfort and irritation all along the way.
An Idiot Abroad 2 is just as entertaining as the first series, with Pilkington making his travel choices based on a bucket list. Only it’s not his bucket list; it’s merely a compilation of some of the most popular activities and sights people would like to do and see before they die. He finds a few options that sound agreeable to him, but like they did in series one’s exploration of the wonders of the world, Gervais and Merchant have plenty of detours planned.
So, in an ostensible journey to his own desert island, Pilkington must first experience land diving on Vanuatu. A drive down Route 66 must make a stop for a New Age cuddle party. And no amount of Alaskan whale watching would be complete without the unforgettable experience of doing manual labor on a fishing vessel. Gervais and Merchant aren’t shy about changing up the main event either — Pilkington learns last minute that he won’t be swimming with dolphins, but he will be swimming with sharks.
An Idiot Abroad could have been a concept that wore thin quickly — after all, how much fun would it be to simply watch the increasingly insufferable Gervais antagonize his less fortunate buddy for hours on end? Fortunately, the show is a lot more than that, thanks to the unexpectedly winning screen persona of Pilkington and his less than enthusiastic perspective on what many might consider opportunities of a lifetime.
The two-disc U.S. DVD set of An Idiot Abroad 2 includes all seven proper episodes, plus the eighth wrap-up special. The nominal extras include a few minutes of deleted Pilkington observations, along with extended moments from the recap where Karl sings with Chas & Dave (one of the few moments where he looks genuinely happy in the whole series) and hawks his inflatable pant invention, Pilko’s Pump Pants.