I think it’s important for everyone to have a favorite round-headed bald man in their TV lives. From September through December, mine is Paul Scheer; he and the rest of the cast of The League make me laugh every week. But come January, my focus turns to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s resident punching bag and quasi-muse, Karl Pilkington. On Friday nights, you can watch him in 2-D form on HBO's The Ricky Gervais Show, the animated re-invention of Gervais, Merchant, and Pilkington’s now-famous podcasts. And on Saturday nights starting tomorrow, you can watch the real Pilkington travel all over the world while providing deadpan, slightly annoyed commentary, thanks to the Science Channel's new "documentary" series, An Idiot Abroad.
Pilkington takes center stage in this travelogue-style show, in which Gervais and Merchant send him on an extended vacation to the Seven Wonders of the World. You won't see much of Gervais and Merchant, though; they only show up for a few quick, camp counselor-like appearances in each episode give Pilkington his travel instructions, laugh at his observations, and listen to his complaints over the phone. And don't be fooled by the fact that the show is airing on the Science Channel; though it obviously contains real footage from Pilkington's travels—and you may learn something by watching him experience new things on-camera—it certainly isn't a travel guide. Almost nothing he says has any factual basis whatsoever.
When you hear Gervais and Merchant blather on about this guy’s comedic genius while simultaneously cutting him down for being a prize idiot, you might think they’re exaggerating. They're not. Pilkington really is everything they say he is, and more—he’s got a completely honest, simplistic take on the world, and it seems as though he’s completely unaffected by societal mores. In lieu of a preview, consider this hysterical snippet from the Gervais, Merchant, and Pilkington’s TCA panel on An Idiot Abroad.
It's impossible for Piklington's act to be an act. His behavior is too consistent to be pre-meditated. Plus, he's not afraid to insult the king of insults, Ricky Gervais, to his face. That said, he is afraid—or at least doesn't care about—pretty much everything else. That’s why An Idiot Abroad is so divine. In the first episode, Karl visits China, where he learns about Chinese food and takes some kung fu lessons. He also makes observations like, "Their alphabet is weird. It's like someone testing out a biro" and "It smells more Chinese-y now, doesn't it? Sort of sweet and sour." I'm already looking forward to taking more trips with this wonderfully weird man.
An Idiot Abroad premieres Saturday, January 22, at 10 p.m. on the Science Channel.