Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): ***½
HBO's Ricky Gervais Show is basically an animated version of British comedian-actor-writer Gervais' hugely popular podcast--previously a radio show--and while calling it the funniest cartoon series ever based on a radio show/podcast may sound like damning with very faint praise, what's important is that it is indeed funny. Sometimes screamingly so.
(Sometimes screechingly so, if you count their running "Monkey News" segment.)
The premise of the show is simple: Gervais sits in a radio studio with his frequent cohort, Stephen Merchant (a frequent creative partner in crime, including co-writer and co-director of the UK Office and the series Extras, in which Merchant also appeared). They are joined by their producer Karl Pilkington, who Gervais dubs the "round-headed buffoon," and they chat and muse on various odd news, thoughts, history and so on.
Why is this funny? Because Gervais and Merchant are funny, in a very snarky but astute sort of way, and their comic foil Karl is deadpan funny, even if not usually intentionally so. Much of the humor and tension of the show comes from the two seemingly smarter comedians trying to knock sense into the often-clueless Pilkington, whether he's reading from the news or from his own diary. Pilkington serves as a sort of Everyman who in turn doesn't always understand what these intellectual comedians are prattling on about. Somehow, it works.
What the cartoon series adds is amusing animated asides and visualizations of the things the trio are discussing. The colorful, flash-meets-Flintstones-esque style serves it well (there's even a segment that literally references the Flintstones) and adds another level to their chats which otherwise don't really demand a repeat listen. And Gervais' Flintstone-y head alongside the tall, gangly Merchant (already rather cartoonish looking in real life), plus the round-headed Karl all translate well to cartoony-land.
Even then there are times when the chatter plus 'toons get a little tiresome, if only because one can bore of Merchant and Gervais basically just laughing hysterically at any dense thing Karl is wondering about. But there's enough diversity to the topics and the debates that it generally remains interesting, and the animators fill in other potentially slow spots with their sight gags.
And some of the bits are particular standouts, from wondering aloud about the first nudist colony, about armed dolphins, what a cobbler does, and on the top 50 freaks of all time. The "Monkey News" is also generally a riot, though maybe it depends on how much you think monkeys are naturally funny; like Gervais, I do quite a bit. I've heard that Pilkington actually makes those stories up, but they are still amusing.
Overall, The Ricky Gervais Show makes for perfect short attention span viewing. Chimpanzee that!
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