In Praise of Karl Pilkington

The absurd, round-headed buffoon at the center of the off-center "Ricky Gervais Show" is set to return for another season

By Jere Hester
|  Friday, Mar 26, 2010  |  Updated 7:05 AM EDT
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On the Red Carpet at the Golden Globes

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We're in for another season of "The Ricky Gervais" show.

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During the most recent edition of “The Ricky Gervais Show,” comic foil Karl Pilkington offers his interpretation of the expression “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
             
If you live in a such a home, he advises, “don’t be chucking stuff about.”             

Pilkington, luckily for fans of the offbeat show, will be chucking about his bizarre theories on everything from evolution to chimpanzees to the rest of the animal kingdom for at least one more season. HBO has renewed the hilarious, but so far sparsely watched program, The Hollywood Reporter notes, meaning we're in for more of Pilkington's absurd observations.

The show, for the uninitiated, is basically an animated version of popular podcasts Gervais and writing partner Stephen Merchant began making in 2005 built around “pointless conversations” with Pilkington, a British radio engineer who believes, among other things, that "The Flintstones" is a relatively accurate depiction of the Stone Age.

Like “The Flintstones,” the Hanna-Barbera-like format actually suits the show well. There's something inherently cartoonish about Pilkington, a denizen of his own, fantastical alternate universe where a sea lion is a cross between a fish and a dog.

Mocked by Gervais for his "perfectly round head, pug little nose, funny, gimp eyes with no expression," Pilkington possesses a permanent hangdog look, with a voice to match. His deadpan delivery adds to the laughs as Pilkington, whose obsessions include monkeys, blathers on about chimps piloting rockets and a simian that supposedly rescued someone from a burning building.

There’s something appealingly genuine and childlike about Pilkington who believes everything he hears, reads – and says. He takes bits of information, true or not, and imprints on them his own his reality as he spins bizarre tales and theories – spurring laughter and insults from Gervais and his writing partner Stephen Merchant.     

"You're mental!" Gervais has been known to yell.

Karl Pilkington is an acquired taste. As The Hollywood Reporter notes, the show is averaging 180,000 viewers – modest even for a Friday night. But HBO is smart to stick with Gervais and Merchant, the duo behind the original, UK version of “The Office” and “Extras.” "The Ricky Gervais Show" needs some time to build a TV audience.

In an era of flashy Reality TV shows, Pilkington stands out for letting us into his internal surreal world – even if he knows he’s only inviting mockery. He’s a funny little round-headed man who lives in an animated glass house that we’ll happily peer into for at least one more season.
 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.
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