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Ricky Gervais Pulls Off An Amazing TV Hat Trick -- Three Nights, Three Networks, Three Funny Show Appearances
January 27, 2011  | By David Bianculli

Ricky Gervais raising a ruckus at the Golden Globes? Old news. Defending his jokes, and sometimes his atheism and his very existence, on Piers Morgan's CNN show? That's so last week.

This week, Gervais is doing something amazing -- and I'll leave it to my fellow cohorts at TV WORTH WATCHING, the ones with sharper memories, to tell me if it's unprecedented as well. He's pulling off a TV hat trick, appearing on three consecutive nights, on different shows and networks -- all of them very entertaining.


The trifecta starts Thursday with a special cameo appearance on NBC's The Office, continues Friday with HBO's The Ricky Gervais Show, and concludes Saturday with Science Channel's An Idiot Abroad. And not only is Gervais in all three shows, he co-created all three as well...

His appearance on The Office (Thursday night at 9 ET) is a fleeting one, a one-scene cold-opening in which he appears opposite Steve Carell. But it's really something to anticipate with excitement, because Gervais is reprising his character of David Brent, the clueless boss he played in the original British version of The Office.

That BBC series was co-created and written by Gervais and Stephen Merchant. It ran in England from 2001-2003, and was imported shortly thereafter by BBC America. It's an absolutely brilliant piece of television -- 12 episodes and a Christmas special -- that introduced the mock-documentary format replicated in NBC's version of The Office, starring Carell as Michael Scott.


NBC's version has run since 2005. On rare occasions, it has risen to the level of the original, but the British version, shown here, is the one that is capable of making you howl with laughter and choke back a tear or two, in the same episode. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of the complete DVD set, which you can purchase by clicking HERE.

So on Thursday, you get Michael Scott and David Brent -- together again, as they say, for the first time. That's one.

The second appearance by Gervais is as both co-creator and co-star, once again -- but this time, for most of the show, Gervais is animated literally as well as figuratively. He and Stephen Merchant begin each show as themselves, sitting down in a recording studio with radio producer Karl Pilkington -- but they shift to old-style cartoon versions of themselves, and the show begins in earnest.

Originally recorded as a series of audio books, The Ricky Gervais Show has been turned by HBO into a weekly cartoon series, in which Gervais and Merchant pepper Pilkington with questions, read from his journals, and roar at his reliably unpredictable responses.


The Ricky Gervais Show (Fridays at 9 p.m. ET), now in its second season, is high on my weekly must-see list, because Pilkington -- a quiet, unassuming, grumbling, ultra-wary young man -- never fails to make Gervais laugh like an amplified hyena. That laughter may be contagious, but it's more likely that Gervais and Merchant merely react, as audiences do at home, to Pilkington's stunningly off-kilter perspective. (When asked what he would do if confronted with his doppelganger, Pilkington asked, "How would I know which one I was?")

That's two, and takes care of Thursday and Friday. (The first season has recently been released on DVD. Buy it HERE.)

Finally, on Saturday, there's another series that features Pilkington, and is created by Gervais and Merchant. It's called An Idiot Abroad, and is televised weekly at 10 p.m. ET on the Science Channel.

This is no cartoon series generated inside the safety of a recording studio. Instead, Gervais and Merchant dispatch Pilkington, a camera crew in tow, to the seven wonders of the world, to get his reactions -- and, just to make him more uncomfortable, to assign him unexpected tasks along the way.


We see Gervais and Merchant, briefly, either preparing Pilkington for his travels beforehand or debriefing him afterward. Sometimes we hear them, phoning their poor colleague with instructions to get a specific type of Chinese massage or experience some of the local cuisine in India. But mostly, we just see and hear Karl, as he reacts to what he sees in his enforced tour around the world.

And, believe me, that's enough. An Idiot Abroad is a screamingly funny show, thanks to Pilkington's good-natured grumblings -- he always tries to be polite, but simply doesn't want to eat a lamb's eye when the rest of the lamb is right there for the taking. An hour spent with Pilkington on An Idiot Abroad, even more so than with an episode of The Ricky Gervais Show, explains why Gervais and Merchant are so taken by Pilkington. He's not an idiot at all -- just spectacularly, hilariously original, in a deadpan fashion that's captivating precisely because it's so honest and unpremeditated.

(One example: When he peers out over the Great Wall of China, he says it's famous for stretching out over miles and miles of land -- but points out that a highway back home does the same thing, and you can drive on it.)

An Idiot Abroad is the sort of show I love to champion on TV WORTH WATCHING -- a program you might not watch otherwise, but which you're likely to treasure once you see it. And that's Saturday's part of Gervais' hat trick. Three shows, three nights, three appearances. And not one of the three shows would exist if not for him.


Check in, if you like, and let me know what you think of The Office (Thursday's appearance, the NBC series in general, or the British original), HBO's The Ricky Gervais Show and Science Channel's An Idiot Abroad. I'd love to know.

And, for the record: My opinion of Gervais at the Golden Globes? Just fine, thanks.

Every joke he made, however close to the bone, was based on widespread knowledge and opinion. (Robert Downey, Jr. had been arrested and in rehab, Mel Gibson was known to drink a lot on occasion, and The Tourist was not a great film.)

And, at the Globes, Gervais saved the best till last, when he signed off by saying, "I thank God -- for making me an atheist."

God, that's funny...




Yonkers maids said:

I like The Ricky Gervais Show! He is so funny. Thanks for always making me laugh. I hope you have more and more projects to come.

Comment posted on January 27, 2011 12:00 PM

Sunni said:

Yeah for Ricky! He's an amazing comic and I don't usually miss anything he's on (except the Golden Globes - since I find award shows in general to be boring.)

Incidentally, on NPR's All Things Considered Monday evening, there was a discussion on common cultural ground and entertainment. One person said "Since we're not all watching the same shows, "water-cooler moments" are harder to come by."

I'm really thankful for tvworthwatching.com and your crew for helping create that common ground. I check you all out everyday. Your tv choices help validate my own tv watching habits, the tv choices I make are usually supported by you all. Your website is definitely one place where common ground can be found and built. Thank you!

[Wow. Thank you right back! Happy to have you. Thrilled, in fact. Tell your friends! Don't go anywhere! -- DB]

Comment posted on January 27, 2011 12:55 PM

James said:

An Idiot Abroad is quite simply the most surprisingly fantastic TV experience I've ever had. Thank you! Combined with Downton Abbey and Sherlock, this show represents the reason this site has become daily reading. Some shows you highlight I was already watching or would've watched anyways, but these little promoted gems keep me constantly re-organizing my DVR priorities. How PBS and the Science channel (which I didn't know existed on my cable plan until I went hunting for it) are currently airing the best programing on TV is beyond me, but thanks to this site I'm one of the precious few people in this country that is tuning in to enjoy it.

[Thanks SO much! Reactions like yours are what keeps US coming back -- to recommend, to write, and to watch. We're all in this together. -- DB]

Comment posted on January 27, 2011 7:20 PM

Shauna said:

My favorite part of the Ricky Gervais podcasts is actually Stephen Merchant. As much as I enjoy the other two, they can get to be a bit overwhelming at times and that's just when Stephen steps in to bring it back to normal. What I really love is when he manages to get in a story himself. The very best one was one when he was on holiday in Mexico and the descriptions of himself on the beach. I highly recommend trying to find it. His 'behind the scenes' humor is what really brings it together for me and makes them all more likable to me.

[I think the story to which you're referring was just animated this season on HBO's Ricky Gervais Show. Hilarious. -- DB]

Comment posted on January 28, 2011 9:48 AM

SharonGS said:

Another thank you for recommending "An Idiot Abroad." It is one of the few shows we can enjoy as a family. Without you, we would not have known about it. Not only does our local paper not have a TV critic, it doesn't even publish listings for most cable channels. Like James, I read your site daily; it is the only way I can learn about TV not on the major networks or PBS. Thank you for creating a TV guide for people who aren't ashamed to like television.

[I'm truly grateful for comments such as yours, as are all our TVWW writers. Thanks SO much... and, just as we're trying to do, spread the word! -- DB]

Comment posted on January 28, 2011 12:12 PM
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