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On the Road Again: Karl Pilkington is Back with More ‘Idiot Abroad,” This Time with Company
January 18, 2013  | By David Bianculli

Most sitcoms these days don’t make me crack so much as the hint of a smile. But whenever Karl Pilkington takes to the road for a TV travel series, I laugh out loud almost instantly…

It happened again when I previewed An Idiot Abroad 3, the newest edition of the inspired travel series that returns Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on the Science Channel. It may be the funniest show on television, and it’s not even a comedy. Not officially, anyway.

But what it is, clearly, is inspired.

The concept of An Idiot Abroad extends Ricky Gervais’ continuing fascination with some of his more oddball friends. Pilkington, an radio engineer and producer whom Gervais coaxed into the business end of the microphone to expand upon his uniquely skewed opinions and misconceptions, has proven a reliable, deep-veined gold mine of comedy — first in The Ricky Gervais Show, HBO’s animated version of the conversational podcasts featuring Gervais, Pilkington, and Gervais collaborator Stephen Merchant – and then, just as successfully, with An Idiot Abroad.

In An Idiot Abroad, Gervais and Merchant (in the first two editions), then Gervais alone (in the current one), dispatch Pilkington on a globe-trotting series of excursions: revisit the Seven Wonders of the World, completing a “bucket list,” or, in An Idiot Abroad 3, retrace the path of Marco Polo.

There are two catches, though, that make this series different from any other travel show. For one, Pilkington is told not only where to go, but whom to meet and what to do — and at most locations, Gervais and company have lined up activities designed to challenge, frighten or embarrass Pilkington, or at least expand his horizons and his comfort zone. And the other secret ingredient of An Idiot Abroad is that, for the most part, Pilkington clearly would rather stay home. He’s the least enthusiastic host in TV travel show history.

This time, though, Pilkington hits the road with a fellow traveler: Warwick Davis (far right), the diminutive actor who has appeared in the Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises, in Willow, and as the star of Gervais’ most recent HBO sitcom, Life’s Too Short.

After his “bucket list” adventures in An Idiot Abroad 2, Pilkington made the mistake of commenting to Gervais that he didn’t understand why one traveler took a cat along in his walk to London. “Take a little mate,” Pilkington offered as a more pleasant option of a companion. So Gervais gleefully took Pilkington literally — and paired him, for this retracing of Marco Polo’s travels across Europe and Asia, with “a little mate”: Warwick Davis.

The two, Gervais says, are like “chalk and cheese.” On this show, they’re like classic opposites, chained together for a riotous buddy movie. Davis wants to experience everything, bond with everyone and enjoy the history. Pilkington, for the most part, just wants to go home, and doesn’t even think Venice, the starting point for their joint voyage, makes any sense at all. Too much water.

My first true bellylaugh came mere minutes into An Idiot Abroad 3, when Warwick and Pilkington, having just emerged from a gondola, were making their way through the super-narrow streets of Venice, heading for their hotel.

“Keep going straight,” Davis shouts to Pilkington, who’s walking ahead of him.

“I’ve got no option,” Pilkington grumbles. I laughed so loudly, I missed Pilkington’s next line, and had to go back to hear it: a classically Pilkington-esque view of the world. In this case, it’s a view from above, as he imagines himself not in the narrow alleyways of Venice, but in a confining videogame maze.

“I’m a Pac-Man.”

Pilkington is a walking rebuttal to the axiom “Misery loves company.” At least in the early going, Pilkington, even when miserable, hates company. Even when he’s put in a “Pleasure Machine,” where gaudily costumed Venetians blindfold him and assault his remaining senses with unidentified tastes and touches and aromas, Pilkington experiences everything but pleasure.

And even when he chooses his own activities, like riding a jet-pack, it rarely works out well for him.

Viewers, though, will enjoy this video voyage from start to finish. Davis is the perfect counter-point to Pilkington — but he, too, has his prickly moments, which are just as funny. You may not want to travel with this pair in person (and, most likely, they wouldn’t want you along anyway).

On television, though, it’s a real trip. And it’s delightful.

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