The Ricky Gervais Show premieres airs every Friday at 9 pm EST on HBO.
One of the biggest surprises about HBO’s The Ricky Gervais Show comes during the end credits of each episode. That’s where you find out that it takes 17 animators to bring to visual life, Gervais’ world famous podcast. It’s a surprise because the animation of the 30-minute weekly show is understated and largely static. However, we all know amazingly advanced animation does not necessarily make a great animated show.
For an animated show to be artfully successful, at the very least, the viewer needs to feel there’s a reason for the animation. The reason, however, for the animation in the case of The Ricky Gervais Show seems to stem more from logistical and financial reasons rather than an artistic one.
The three stars – Gervais, his writing partner Stephen Merchant and former radio producer Karl Pilkington – didn’t need to show up on set or at a recording studio, since the dialogue is taken from Gervais’ previously produced – and brilliantly funny – podcasts. Combine the relatively easy production process with the amount of cash the show will bring in – DVD sales alone will be huge – due to Gervais’ past successes with The Office and HBO’s show Extras, and you have a no brain business decision to create a new cable comedy show.
The audio content of the show itself is fun, light and incredibly entertaining. Honestly, though, it’s difficult to justify the animation. The majority of the show finds the trio talking into over hanging microphones around a wooden table. Periodically, the scene breaks to act-outs of the conversation, which bring to mind Comedy Central’s ill-fated Shorties Watching Shorties. Like the original podcast, the HBO version of the show would be better heard during a long car ride, treadmill jogs or on iTunes when you’re avoiding work.
After watching three episodes, the formula of the show wears thin. Gervais and Merchant provide the set up (a topic is introduced) and then the pair, with no subtleties, throw it off to the real star of the show, whipping boy Pilkington with a phrase like, “What do you think about that, Karl” or “Karl, you must have some comments on that.”
Karl, a likable and gullible chap, then happily takes the bait and begins philosophizing on all things from implanting babies into 78-year-old women, trying to convince Ricky and Stephen that the first monkey that went to the moon committed suicide or his beliefs in the story of a haunted tankard.
Regardless of Karl’s level of stupidity on any given topic, Gervais and Merchant lay into him with equal fervor: Ricky says things like “I’ve seen [Karl] blossom from an idiot into an imbecile” and “You are brain dead. I’d rather have [a] monkey drive me home than you.” It’s funny the first few times, but since the podcasts have been truncated to 30 minutes, the continual Karl beatings get exponentially meaner and less funny.
The bottom line is this: the animation produced around Gervais’ masterful podcast doesn’t hurt its content. But it certainly doesn’t make it any better.