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TV Review: An Idiot Abroad

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An Idiot Abroad is the latest brainchild of comedic masterminds Ricky Gervais and Stephan Merchant, co-creators of The Office. The Science Channel’s eight part series, which is being touted as “the most elaborate practical-joke-turned-sociology-experiment in television history”, concerns itself with Karl Pilkington, a hapless producer at radio station XFM and a contributor to Gervais’s podcasts. Pilkington is sent out on a world journey by Messrs. Gervais and Merchant and keeps in touch with them via iPhone.

“It’s great to have An Idiot Abroad on such a prestigious and innovative outlet,” says Gervais. “Karl didn’t even go to school and now look at him. I can’t wait to hear how they announce it on air. ‘And now on The Science Channel, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send a chimp around the world to annoy it.’”

Most people would welcome a chance to visit the Seven Wonders of the World on Ricky Gervais’ tab. Not so Pilkington who much prefers his comfort zone in the U.K. Despite his reluctance, he is shipped off to these exotic locales and told to learn the history of each Wonder of the World and immerse himself in their local customs.

Gervais pulls no punches when he refers to his traveling friend as a “round, empty headed moron, a real life Homer Simpson but lovable”. He goes on to say that he thinks sending Karl around the world is “amazing” and how learning about other cultures will change his friend’s outlook. “Nothing is funnier than Karl in a corner being poked by a stick,” Gervais says. “And I am that stick”.

Okay. The first thing you might ask yourself after hearing these comments is, “Is An Idiot Abroad for real?” Sure, the show is a practical joke. But after about a half hour of viewing it, it will be obvious the joke is on you. Not that it’s not a bad thing. An Idiot Abroad is actually amusing in a peculiar sort of way. As with all of Gervais’s creations, the cringe factor is over the moon.

In the premiere episode, Pilkington is sent to China and is immediately suspect of his surroundings. He worries about stuff like how ‘weird’ the alphabet is and how the books are read from back to front. When he ambles into a Beijing shop to have a parchment made with his name written in Chinese, the shop owners can’t manage to pronounce ‘Karl’ properly. So begins a routine reminiscent of the best Abbott and Costello schticks. When Karl purchases the finished product, he wonders if the symbols truly represent his name. He considers giving it to his girlfriend and telling her it’s her name. “How would she know?” he wonders aloud.

He continues his walk and observes a girl eating a scorpion off a stick (“what does she do if she sees a spider in the bath?”) and a man scooping a chicken fetus out of an egg. Horrified, he sits in a corner and munches on a more familiar type of snack. (“I’m the freak here, eating this bag of chips”).

I can almost feel for him.

In Badaling, Pilkington sets off on a bus trip to visit the China’s Great Wall and let’s us know from the outset he is not looking forward to the trip. The Wall goes on for miles, he says, but so does the M6, and you can drive on that. He comes away from the experience unimpressed. “It’s not a great wall. It’s just an alright wall. The Alright Wall of China”.

There are loads of similar observations throughout the show. I couldn’t help thinking it was all very “Gervais”. If it’s not scripted, then Gervais has gotten inside of Pilkington’s (supposedly) addled brain and is having a fantastic time controlling the horizontal and the vertical.

If you’d like to have a laugh at Karl Pilkington’s expense over the next seven weeks, and see the Seven Wonders of the World in a skewed light, give An Idiot Abroad a look. But try not to forget that the joke is really on you.

An Idiot Abroad airs on The Science Channel, Saturday nights at 10PM ET.

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About Mindy Peterman

  • Angry Man

    I honestly think hes a racist, poorly educated, classless man. He kept commenting that it looked or smelled or tasted “chinese-y.” As for the Great Wall, its an engineering marvel! Anything built at that magnitude and last that long is nothing short of a marvel. It makes me mad that he is totally oblivious to everything outside of western culture. There are thousands of cultures out there that have come way before the english culture, or what we’ve come to know as normal. But he needs to learn how to respect how other cultures. Instead of calling things weird, call them different.

  • pmg

    @Angry man. Let me guess….Obama voter? Don’t watch the show if you don’t like it. I’m sure you can fill the time contemplating how “enlightened” you are.

  • Don Bartley

    This show is so slanted. You can find people eating something really gross things in Western culture, even though they don’t represent Western culture. For those close minded viewers out there, this show makes their simple minds validated.

  • Angry Brazilian

    I agree with Angry man and Don Bartley. @pmg, let me guess… ignorant white person? Don’t tell people not to care when their culture is degraded to allow idiots like you to believe your culture is superior.

  • Connor

    Brilliant show. You just have to get to know Karl before you get upset about how he is.

  • Mikey k

    Why so serious? It’s a joke it’s funny, everyone is so sensitive and take things so personally. Some of you people are the exact reason why they sensor tv and radio and restrict the rights of others bc you can’t take a joke. Stop making everything out to be racist. Don’t get swept up in the little things.

  • DC

    This show is sick. If he isn’t this dumb, then people are perverted for wanting to see him make a fool of himself. If he really IS this whacked, then its doubly a crime to take advantage of him like that, for ‘our’ ‘entertainment’. Sick show, sick people watching it.

  • Christopher

    Western culture always makes fun of itself. If you want to make fun of it, we’d probably think it was funny too. Cheer up.

    We don’t actually care if you’re offended, because we have enough nukes to wipe you off the map. So you better keep smiling, and get back to making our television sets.

    Have a nice day.