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Ricky Gervais Continues to Bat 1.000 on TV, This Time with HBO's "Ricky Gervais Show"
February 18, 2010  | By David Bianculli

Ricky Gervais, on television, has a perfect streak going. BBC's The Office, the original series in which he starred, and which co-wrote with Stephen Merchant: brilliant. HBO's Extras, the series featuring both him and Merchant on-camera as well as off: brilliant. Gervais' HBO stand-up special: brilliant. And now comes The Ricky Gervais Show, an animated HBO version of an ongoing series of conversational podcasts.

And guess what? It, too, is brilliant...

Gervais, and his special brand of humor, have been infecting pop culture for almost a decade now. Hardly anyone outside of British radio enthusiasts were aware of Gervais when the new century began. His only significant media experience came in the 1990s, with a show for London's Xfm radio, where he worked with an assistant named Stephen Merchant. Merchant left for the BBC, Gervais followed, and the two of them pitched and created The Office, broadcast in the United Kingdom to great acclaim from 2001-2003.


After the success of The Office, Xfm invited Gervais and Merchant back to do anything they wanted -- and what they wanted was to sit in a studio and talk. They were assigned a producer, a man named Karl Pilkington, and his strange take on the world, and everything in it, soon turned him into the show's secret weapon and breakout star.

The years of Xfm's The Ricky Gervais Show have long been available as podcasts -- but after the success of Gervais' follow-up TV series, Extras, HBO cut a deal to mount an animated version of Gervais' podcasts. The result, HBO's Ricky Gervais Show, begins Friday night at 9 p.m. ET -- and whether or not you've heard the podcasts, the TV version will leave you charmed.

Chalk it up in part to alternatively incisive and cruel questions by Merchant and Gervais, in part to Gervais' infectious laugh, and the rest to Pilkington, whose observations may have little connection to facts or reality -- but, in their deadpan delivery and skewed logic, are priceless. No one, not even Gervais and Merchant, could write the stuff that comes out of Pilkington's mouth, which is why they're so delighted by him.

Karl Pilkington is to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant what Margaret Dumont was to the Marx Brothers -- a comic foil so blissfully unaware, everyone else is made funnier as a result.


The animation, at times, works perfectly, as when Karl confuses the evolution of man with information he's absorbed on The Flintstones. Other times, it's totally superfluous. It's the sound, not the sight, that makes this TV show so much fun... but as TV shows go, it's another home run regardless.

By the way -- next week I'm interviewing Gervais for Fresh Air. I usually don't have enough advance warning to ask this, but this time I do, so I may as well:

Have any questions you're dying to have Gervais answer? I'm not promising to ask any, but I'm open to all suggestions... and I'd also love to know what you think of The Ricky Gervais Show, so let me know.




Shauna said:

I used to listen to this podcast at work, but had to stop because of the profanity that would be blaring from my computer as clients came into my office, but mostly due to the fact that I was laughing so hard that I couldn't get any work done. I stand by the opinion that I've always had that Stephen Merchant is actually the most valuable player in this trio as his calmness and deadpan questioning make the perfect complement to Ricky's somewhat manic style and Karl's complete lack of sense.

I don't get HBO so I won't be watching this series, but I hope they have animated one of my favorite podcasts which is the one where Stephen recounts his trip to a beach (I'm thinking it was in Mexico) and his stories about being a giant, extremely white guy. Absolutely hilarious stuff!

Comment posted on February 18, 2010 2:08 PM

Gregg B said:

I'd like to know what he thinks of the American version of "The Office"? It has gone in a very different direction from the British version. On the Golden Globes he said it had jumped the shark, does he believe that?

Comment posted on February 18, 2010 3:47 PM

megan said:

Guess I'll have to get my HBO subscription back.

Comment posted on February 18, 2010 9:07 PM

Chris Collins said:

Hey Dave,

I'm not sure if it's too late, but I'd love to hear if Ricky has any plans on developing Flanimals into anything in TV/Movie terms?

(Flanimals is a weird little picture book of made up animals that he invented. It's an imaginary guide book to the made up creatures.)

Comment posted on February 19, 2010 2:24 PM

Eric said:

I am thrilled about this new series, which, unfortunately, arrives just as I was about to quit watching television altogether with the exception of Lost and the Daily Show. I like House, but it's not going anywhere and I can catch up later. I used to enjoy Big Love, but not so much now that it has gone shrill and morphed into Desperate Polygamist Housewives. (And that's a shame, because it has such a talented cast, great characters, great subject matter, great writers, and one of my favorite show runners, Paul Redford. But, alas, dozens of brilliant people working together don't necessarily add up to the sum of their parts.) So, for me, this looked like the moment to make a break.

I'll have to add this to my short list of exceptions. The podcast is generally very funny, and it has given me many of the best laughs of my life. I commute to and from work on foot, and several times I've had to stop walking so I could double over in laughter and tears to catch my breath.

Ricky Gervais is a genius. Karl Pilkington steals the show. And I agree with Shauna that Stephen Merchant is the under-appreciated MVP on this team. Could not happen without him.


Questions for Ricky Gervais: How and when did you recognize the comic value of Karl Pilkington? Has fame gone to his head? If you could go back and change one thing about The Office or Extras, what would it be?

Comment posted on February 19, 2010 2:48 PM

Ron said:

Hasn't Howard Stern been doing the same thing for decades to his producer, Gary Dell'Abate? Haven't listened to Stern since he went to satellite but Gervais doesn't seem to be breaking any new ground here.

Comment posted on February 21, 2010 8:59 AM

Rich said:

I'd ask Mr. Gervais- "Are you havin' a laugh are you".

I honestly would ask him if he has a "Exit Strat" for freeing America of Steve Carrell (Micheal Scott from "The Office"). Steve makes that boss character so cringe-worthy and annoying I stopped watching the show. The supporting players on USA's "Office" have all bloomed and made it such a unique experience- then Carrell, like nails on a chalkboard, just does his schtick and I fast-forward.

Gervais is the total opposite, You waited for those awkward moments, stood aghast and chuckled at how long he could prolong the 'Gag' - it's classic. Maybe it's a stoic Brit trait or lack of ego (when you're in character?) but Carrell is practically Neanderthal in my opinion to Gervais Modern yet uncomplicated wit & charm.

I just hope Gervais puts an end to the American "Office" before it gets completely unwatchable.

Comment posted on February 24, 2010 5:14 AM

Matt said:

Hi David, love your stuff. My question for Ricky Gervais would be this: My absolute favorite moment in Extras came actually from the outtakes, specifically the one from the episode with Patrick Stewart when Ricky can just simply NOT get through Patrick's movie story pitches. I was wondering if he could elaborate on those takes, or if there have been any other moments when he just couldn't get through something he or Stephen has written.



[Great question. I'll ask it. Without giving you any credit whatsoever, of course. Thanks. -- David B.]

Comment posted on February 24, 2010 3:36 PM

R. Orr said:

When does your interview with Mr. Gervais air? I've been listening to Fresh Air all week waiting to hear it!

I love Ricky Gervais and can't wait to hear your interview. Thank you!

[It'll probably be this week sometime. If I know in advance, I'll post a warning -- I mean, a heads-up... David B.]

Comment posted on February 26, 2010 9:22 AM
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