THE SHOW "The Ricky Gervais Show"
WHEN | WHERE Friday night at 9 on HBO
WHAT IT'S ABOUT These half- hour programs, 13 in all, are the original podcasts that Merchant, Gervais and Pilkington produced in the U.K. and posted on the Guardian newspaper Web site. They were an Internet hit, Pilkington became a cult figure; and now, it's all been rendered in traditional cel animation. How "traditional?" These could almost pass for "The Flintstones," and, in fact, Ricky looks like Fred's twin brother. (Coincidence? Who knows?)
The three guys sit around a table, while Pilkington begins his free-association ramblings on monkeys, new technology, procreation, galactic space travel, simulated-sex machines and so on. His boneheaded musings invariably prompt shrieks of laughter from Gervais (along with snickers from Merchant), who are aghast at Pilkington's nuttiness. Some flights of fancy are illustrated (what would this sex machine look like?), though often it's just the cartoon heads talking back and forth.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW Pilkington is a deadpan comedian - we don't have an exact counterpart on these shores, though he has been compared to Steven Wright. Before you watch this, you may want to check out Pilkington's "3 Minute Wonder" documentaries for British TV; some are available on YouTube.
MY SAY There's a market for free-form observational comedy - without plot, hook, arc, relevance, logic, structure - and it's called satellite radio. Better yet, the Internet. In fact, these were Internet hits, and somewhere a lightbulb went off - why not HBO? Another lightbulb followed . . . why not animate them, too? Unfortunately, that's two too many lightbulbs.
These modest chats work marvelously well when you are, say, driving across Ohio and are in desperate need of something besides Red Bull and a classic rock station to engage your numb brain. But as half-hour cartoons, they are stupefying.
BOTTOM LINE Pilkington's musings are sometimes amusing and always pointless, but the animation almost totally nullifies the first and intensifies the second. It tricks you into thinking something good is just around the corner; do not be deceived. Nothing is.