HBO’s adaptation of the hugely popular podcast series from Ricky Gervais and his chums aired on the network earlier this year, and has recently finished its run on Channel 4, too.
Gervais and Merchant pitched the idea of the podcasts, on which this animated series is based, to Guardian Unlimited so they would achieve greater control over the content, following several controversial incidents during their run as hosts at XFM.
Having been out for a number of years now, the podcasts remain immensely successful, topping numerous charts and breaking records for the number of downloads. Given their success, it’s little surprise that they have been adapted for TV.
The format they chose is perfect, and the animation team has done a great job here. The Hanna Barbera-style animation that has been adopted lends itself well to the show. The in-studio conversations are fine, but the show is at its best when Karl Pilkington’s flights of fancy are discussed and brought to life via animation. The already extremely funny material is enhanced by the imagery that accompanies it.
The genius of the work they have done together to date lies in the simplicity of the format. The comedy derives from three incredibly funny people discussing a variety of topics unscripted. While the exchanges are improvised, the show has a number of recurring features, so it does follow a format.
Monkey News is perhaps one of the more popular pieces, as it shows just how much Karl will believe in often ridiculous stories. My favourite of the show’s regular features is Karl’s Diary, where Stephen reads excerpts and Karl responds to questions raised by him and Ricky.
Given Karl is the source of much of the material in the show, he’s become the star, but Gervais and Merchant’s roles are played to perfection, with Gervais acting as the antagonist and Merchant as the mediator. The dynamic between the trio is superb, as was evident long before the podcast’s run. The show Karl produced for Ricky and Stephen on XFM was essential listening, and provided the foundation for the incredibly successful podcast series on which this TV show is based.
Sure, Karl is perhaps not intentionally funny, but the way he presents his unique views and opinions to Ricky makes him the catalyst for numerous moments of comedy gold in each episode. Karl’s imagination can go from the vividness of a child, with him projecting human characteristics onto animals and believing pretty much whatever he reads, to failing to think of scenarios such as travelling back in time to a moment in his childhood.
One thing I do agree with him on, though, is his stance on slippers. Just use socks in the house and certainly don’t wear slippers out in the street.
What’s contained here has been available elsewhere for some time now, but the animated format adds a new lease of life to the material. Episodes have been streamlined so they fit within the twenty-five minute runtime and they are all, without exception, paced to perfection and incredibly funny.
Given the success of the first series, a second is expected to air sometime next year. The fact that the podcasts increase in quality as the series’ progress, the show has the potential to run for quite some time and to become one of the best, and perhaps most importantly, successful animated comedy series currently on TV.
There are a host of extras here, and while it doesn’t take long to get through the material, the quality of what’s contained is very high. There are a series of adverts that ran in America to plug the show, where Gervais, Merchant and Pilkington discussed the show in non-animated form. They each last for a little over a minute and are incredibly funny.
It’s hard not to laugh at Karl’s downbeat view of the show, and where he points out in one ad that it’s not as good as The Simpsons. This would be true based on the quality of the series in its heyday, but given its recent form, I’d say the material contained in The Ricky Gervais Show is far more consistent.
Other HBO adverts include‘Big fish in a little pond’where Karl ponders whether or not being on such a quality network is, in fact, a good thing, and ‘Karl and his perfectly round head’, where Ricky introduces Karl to his potential new audience.
Rounding off the HBO material is ‘Pointless conversation’, which is an extended discussion between the three, where much of the material for the trailers was taken from.
Interestingly, a whole episode can be viewed in storyboard form, which provides an insight into the early stages of the creative process of animating the studio exchanges and their flights of fancy.
The sketch that aired as part of Channel 4’s comedy gala is included, which, for many people in the UK, provided the first look at the show. At less than two minutes in length, it’s as effective as an advert for the show as the aforementioned trailers.
Also included is a discussion between the three that aired on Channel 4 in advance of the series’ run. The topic of its perceived bullying is brought up, which is one complaint that I’ve encountered when discussing both the podcast and the animated series with people. None of them see it as bullying at all, particularly Karl who states that it’s not as though he goes running home to his mum after the show.
When close friends are comfortable with one another, they inevitably reach a level where they are able to engage with each other in such a manner. This is the best of the extras, as it addresses the format of the show while being incredibly funny at the same time.
Whether or not those who own the podcasts already will rush out to buy the animated series is questionable, but the new format has, no doubt, brought the trio’s work to a wider audience, which can only be a good thing.
The Ricky Gervais Show is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.