Having recently watched and reviewed the great stand-up shows by Ricky Gervais, including his latest Netflix release, I’ve also gone through his animated TV series The Ricky Gervais Show on DVD yet again, as that’s consistently very funny too.
It’s based on a series of radio shows and podcasts that Ricky recorded with fellow comedian Stephen Merchant and their radio producer friend Karl Pilkington, talking about all sorts of random things. I have a large selection of their recordings in audiobook form, downloaded for free or from Audible, which are always good fun to dip into:
- XFM Seasons 1-4 (the full episodes, not the short compilations on Audible)
- Podcast Seasons 1, 2, 4 & 5 (Season 3 is unavailable)
- The Ricky Gervais Guide To…
- Other Free Podcasts
Ricky and Stephen have a lot of banter and funny stories of their own that they bring to the table in those shows, especially in the early days. But Karl increasingly becomes the main focus of their interest, as he has his own special take on the world. He was first introduced to a wider audience, beyond the XFM radio show, on some of Ricky’s stand-up DVDs, by Ricky talking about him on stage, and also chatting with Karl directly in the bonus features.
Whether it’s completely misunderstanding things that seem obvious to the rest of us, coming up with strange ideas for improving the world with his bizarre logic, having strange habits that often irritate his partner Suzanne, or his obsession with weird trivia about freaks and animals, it is amazing what Karl comes out with. It seems that he often hears about news stories and facts, or watches documentaries, without fully understanding, researching or verifying them, and then he extrapolates in his head what he believes happened. Or he incorrectly remembers some fictional story or film he came across once as a factual account. So by the time he tells Ricky and Stephen about things, they’re wildly misinterpreted, exaggerated or embellished stories that he’s convinced are correct when they’re blatant nonsense. There may be some very basic truth underpinning them somewhere, but it’s often hard to tell what it is.
The animated TV series, therefore, cherry-picks some of the best moments from their recordings. It was produced by HBO in America, and also broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK, airing between 2010 and 2012. It’s very funny indeed, and I own all 3 series on DVD. It still gets shown on the TV as well, I know Comedy Central have been repeating it recently here in the UK. So here’s my review of the series, which I hope you enjoy!
The animation, in a style similar to Hanna-Barbera cartoons, really brings the trio’s conversations to life nicely. Ricky’s squeals of laughter are contagious enough in the flesh, for example, but are taken to another level when you see his cartoon persona bursting into fits of laughter. Stephen’s laughter isn’t as loud and forceful as that, but is still fairly contagious, and his animated self suits him very well. And Karl is just… well… Karl. They’ve captured the ’round-headed buffoon’ – one of the nicer names that Ricky affectionately calls him – very accurately. The contrast between Ricky’s hysterics and Karl’s mystified face is often very funny in itself.
All of the discussions they have are illustrated with brilliantly animated cutaways as well. During these you sometimes see Karl’s partner Suzanne, whose face is cleverly hidden in some way to respect her privacy, along with many other characters who are wonderfully realised. And although each episode has an underlying theme to kick off the discussions, the chatter often goes in very unexpected directions.
As the show is designed for half-hour broadcast in America, with adverts taken into account, the 39 episodes are just 23-25 minutes long. And within that, the intro takes up 45 seconds, while the credits last for almost a minute (with a jolly theme tune by Glyn Hughes). So they’re short and easy to watch, and it doesn’t take long to get through the lot. But they make the most of the time and cram in plenty of topics for discussion.
Throughout the first series there a couple of recurring features. The first is Monkey News, including stories of monkeys in space, in a zoo, on TV, in the fire service, on a building site, riding bobsleighs and horses, doing medical surgery, and so on. Ricky’s improvised jingle gets crazier as the series progresses too.
And secondly, there are readings from Karl’s diary, include all sorts of random ramblings that spark all sorts of banter between the trio. It includes the mention of the letter for Mr Dilkington, which is one of the most hilarious moments in the entire run of the show, no matter how often I see it. The fact that Karl writes something so inane in his diary is pretty amusing in itself, but the combination of audio and animation really sells it here, from Stephen’s initial difficulty at reading it out while chuckling about it, to Ricky’s wide-mouthed reaction as he can’t contain himself. It still cracks me up every single time without fail. The diary segments also include an evolving jingle from Ricky, similar to the one for Monkey News.
Other topics during the first series include population growth (such as Karl’s idea of having a baby that pops out of you when you die), sex machines and toys, nudity, donating a goat for charity, superpowers, famous sayings, philosophers, indigenous tribes, dolphins with guns, Chinese homeless people, the round shape of Karl’s head, cutting off other people’s heads, face transplants, chickens, watching the neighbours while washing up, prostate exams, talking to animals, time travel, nappies, dishwashers in space, fighting in school, changing the length of the day, doppelgängers, romance, becoming an insect, worms, ghosts, slippers, enormous germs that will choke us to death in 2020, arriving in heaven, Karl’s childhood, and his Top 5 freaks. So it’s quite the mixture!
This series is even better than the first, with funnier stories and banter, and more detailed animated cutaways to illustrate their various discussions. As Ricky states in the interview chat among the extras, they felt more confident about letting the animators go further, having previously been concerned that overdoing it would detract from the audio itself.
For starters, we continue to hear very amusing extracts from Karl’s Diary, during which we’re introduced to his hilarious attempts at poetry. There’s also a bizarre brain-swapping movie idea that he describes in detail, having actually pitched it to some movie producers who approached him for some reason. And he fails to grasp a riddle about 2 doors leading to Heaven and Hell, each manned by a guard, one of whom always lies while the other always tells the truth, and you can only ask one question to one of them. Not only does he not understand the answer, but he thinks far too deeply about the initial question itself, which confuses him further.
Ricky also collapses with laughter at Karl’s predictions for the future (where he does kind of predict augmented reality to be fair), and Karl’s story about being treated for a leg injury after “kicking my height”, during which he proclaims “I was still using my eyes even though I had ‘em shut!” They are undoubtedly two of the funniest moments in the entire series, that never fail to make me laugh, again due to both Ricky and Stephen’s reactions.
And it’s not all about Karl. Most of it is, of course, but there’s more input from Stephen in particular this series. He tells a really funny story about his disastrous holiday to Rio, for example, where he has trouble relieving himself in the sea, and then misses the carnival after falling ill. There’s also another swimming tale about him watching a guy whose swimming style he was very impressed by. And there’s his recollection about trying and failing to get into a nightclub with his mates.
Other topics the trio cover during the second series include all sorts of animals and insects, our bodies and brains, Karl’s kidney stones, more about doppelgängers and freaks, Karl’s holidays with Suzanne, the mirrored wall in Karl’s flat, art, sculptures, birthday presents, blind people having affairs, curing blindness, relationship advice, Karl’s favourite curse word, Warwick Davis, University Challenge, the end of the world, inventions, Tic-Tacs, earliest childhood memories, Karl reading a gay magazine, getting lost, speaking to a ghost, being snowed in, UFOs, reusing noises, whistling, living your best life in a virtual world, problem holes and problem balls, and general enjoyment and happiness in life.
And the final episode closes with the only time that Ricky managed to make Karl laugh during a podcast, which is nicely animated too. Karl has laughed on a few rare occasions during the old XFM shows and in televised chats, it’s not like he never does it. But during their podcasts this appears to have been the only such moment, so it’s still quite significant.
The third series continues in much the same vein, and is again very funny. The animation has stepped up a notch yet again, with lots of variety in how the stories and discussions are illustrated, while in the studio segments there are new camera angles (to give views from behind Stephen and Karl), and an animated outtake at the start of the first episode as the trio set things up. There’s more use of background music in this series as well, in a way that nicely complements the chatter and visuals without being intrusive, and often subtly repeats the theme tune in different styles.
Some of the funniest discussions involving Karl in this series include his second body-swapping film idea featuring Tom Cruise, a typical day in his life with his partner Suzanne, his idea of having a machine for doctors to feel how you feel, his experience of using the toilet in Egypt, his observations of a cricket fighting a wasp, imagining himself as the wife of a man going off to war (resulting in Ricky falling off his chair with hysterics), and a few more entries from his diary.
And as for the other two, it’s very amusing to hear about Stephen pretending to be foreign to a charity collector, it’s interesting to learn about Ricky’s experience meeting a security guard in America (which leads to an hilarious attempt by Karl to be a negotiator in a hostage situation), and the pair of them have a funny chat about watching the World Cup together in a hotel room.
Other topics covered in this series include museums, ties, writing a will, charity, pain thresholds, Karl helping a drunk man outside his house, German women, slugs, worms with teeth, fulfilling your potential, science and medicine, food, typical Englishmen, weddings, Italy, old people, fly-tipping, Saint George, warfare, law and order, noise pollution, capital punishment, reading the old homeowner’s mail, people who help disabled people have intercourse, getting a second-hand bed and trimming the mattress, paying for carrier bags, the birth of the universe, Ancient Greece, cyclists wearing crash helmets, deciding who can have children, Rosa Parks, the British Library, puns & idioms, philosophers, stress, fat football fans, cheating in games, school sports, Darren Campbell, saliva, organ donation, a biscuit-eating grub, killing ants, Karl gifting condoms to Suzanne for Christmas, old news vs new news, fixing Karl’s boiler, and an enjoyable conclusion to the final episode that sees them morphing into old men still chatting away.
For the first two series there are bonus features on the second disc as well, while there’s nothing added to the third series.
The longest extras are complete storyboards, of which there’s one with the first series, and two with the second. These are early work-in-progress versions of particular episodes, with hand-drawn sketches to map the later animation, accompanied by lower quality audio. There’s nothing really new in terms of content, apart from occasional unimportant lines of dialogue that were trimmed for the final cut, but it’s interesting to get a glimpse into the development process.
There’s also a real-life interview accompanying each of the first two series, lasting around 10 minutes or so, where the trio chat together about Karl and the show. They’re pretty funny and reflect the sort of banter they have in the episodes, so are worth watching.
The DVD for the first series also includes a 90-second animated discussion for Channel 4’s Comedy Gala charity event, where they talk about swimming with dolphins, and a real-life Pointless Conversation lasting for 3 minutes, where they talk about being a big fish in a small pond. They’re both quite amusing.
And apart from all that there are short trailers and promo spots for each of the first two series, lasting from 30 seconds to a minute each.
I always love watching this show, it’s one of those few programmes that can make me laugh out loud consistently, regardless of how many times I see it. So I hope you enjoyed reading my review of it. And the podcasts it’s based on are really entertaining as well, as there’s a massive amount of material within those, far more than any TV show could ever cover, so I really enjoy dipping into those too.