Monday, June 18, 2012

Idiot Abroad

Idiot Abroad is a travel show on the Science Channel.  I just moved and now have AT&T U-Verse and am exposed to more cable…lucky me.  I knew about this program from my brother and mother, big Ricky Gervais fans.  I know, what does Ricky have to do with travel?  Let me explain….

Ricky is a brilliant talent known in the US mainly as the creator of The Office.  He’s English and has created many shows in addition to the global phenomenon of The Office.  He’s funny, but I wouldn’t call him a comic.  He’s been in film, but I don’t consider him an actor.  He’s a humorist with business savvy and has a penchant ffor the uncomfortable.  He actually had a hit song in the late 80’s and/or early 90’s.  Talented guy.  

Stephen, Karl and Ricky
So, as Ricky has become more powerful in the entertainment industry, he’s been able to create projects.  His business and writing partner is Stephen Merchant, who is visible in most Gervais projects.  They have a mate, co-worker and friend named Karl Pilkington, who is now the “idiot” star of a travel show.  If you watch the show, you would assume Karl is some normal chap plucked from the streets of Manchester, England and thrown into a whirlwind travel escapade.  He’s all that, but he knows Ricky and Stephen from producing their radio show and does have some entertainment industry savvy.  

The premise of the show is to send Karl off to see the Seven Wonders of the World and view his discomfort.  I’ve not been tuned into all of Ricky’s entertainment portfolio, but I do know Karl has been elevated to notoriety through various projects.  Karl is funny because Ricky and Stephen think he’s funny.  In short, they think Karl is a typical Englishman and has rather simple views on life and the world.  As Ricky states in the show intros, his goal is to see Karl completely uncomfortable and that makes him laugh.

The show is well produced and we get to see parts of the world not familiar to most (unless you live in those parts of the world). Instead of staying in posh hotels, they make Karl stay in the more “grim” areas of famous cities and travel in more rustic modes (i.e. camel’s across a dessert in Jordan).  There are several episodes showing Karl’s jaunts to see the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the pyramids of Egypt.  None of these impress Karl.  The wall in China has been reconstructed in the twentieth century and he didn’t appreciate being on a tour bus with non-English speaking Chinese.  He thought the pyramids were big, but noted the base of them are much larger than the pinnacles.  Additionally, there was a lot of rubbish and garbage around the site. 

Karl is funny.  He isn’t impressed with what we all think we should be impressed with.  He does, however, make some profound comments on cities and the general vibe.  When he visited the holy land, his trip started in Israel and when he had to go through the wall/checkpoint to Bethlehem, he was more moved by the sobering experience of the wall rather than the birthplace of Jesus.  In Jordan, he visits Petra, an ancient city carved in massive rocks.  It’s truly amazing to see, even from television.  Ricky and Stephen inform Karl he needs to travel to Petra on camel.  After 8 hours one day, the camels break down.  Literally, they just stopped walking.  The next day, Karl refused to get back on a camel and travelled the rest of the journey by auto.  Once he’s there, he admits it’s neat.  The next “order” from Ricky and Stephen was for Karl to spend the night there, but in a cave.  Initially he’s totally annoyed with the concept.  After sitting with residents of Petra, who live in caves, he’s amazed they can receive mail.  Honestly, he was more profoundly affected by the efficiency of mail delivery to caves than the wonder itself.  Once he nestled in for the night, he was quite pleased.  He said he could live in a cave and is amazed with how civilization even occurred in the first place.  He ponders if he were a caveman, not much progress would have been made.  This is an observation I’ve made about myself over the years.

The entire series is like this.  While the concept is somewhat cruel, we see Karl live up to initial expectations while making some valuable observations at the same time.  It’s as if he’s learning, but reluctantly.  The viewer is uncomfortably amused while learning about remote corners of the world.  I loved my marathon afternoon of watching the show.  It’s hard to watch Karl’s discomfort and not personalize a reaction.  How would I feel?  Would I eat what he’s forced to eat?  Would I secretly be disappointed with the attractions or love the experience?

I’ve started watching Bordain’s No Reservations again.  Great exposure to travel and food, but it lacks the raw honesty of Idiot Abroad.  I can’t wait to see more.

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