So, the Science Channel isn’t usually a destination. But on a recent frigid Saturday night, after having willed my last $5 into beef stroganoff, the Science Channel felt about the right speed. How could I have guessed that in return for agreeing to be the only person on earth watching the Science Channel at 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday, I would be rewarded with untold travel foible treasures?
If you’ve ever been privy to the Ricky Gervais Show podcast, Karl Pilkington is already a bona fide celebrity in your mind. If you haven’t done Gervais, lemme give you the short hand: this guy is supposedly just some guy who worked for the show. Sure, he’s a former radio producer and podcaster, but he’s also…just some guy armed with quirky quips and stoic, detached (and very English) observations about the world. If you haven’t had the pleasure, please do. Now, enough about him. Moving onto his new show.
An Idiot Abroad is advertised as the brainchild of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who thought it’d be hilarious to send this guy off to explore the 8 Wonders of the World, basically, so we could laugh at his pursuits. The result? A sometimes-accurate, sort-of-earnest reflection of what it’s like to wander off with only your wits in tow, and rarely for Pilkington, even that. I’m absolutely positive that earnest isn’t what the producers had in mind.
I’m going to ignore for a moment the questions about whether Pilkington’s routine is manufactured. He’s got a slightly-below-average everyman quality. That’s what makes him funny. But this isn’t a fish out of water show (you know, drop a dummy into the wild and watch him fend). It’s a show about going off to see the big, hyped shit, and running into your own limitations along the way. Whether they’re in the form of some gross-ass local fare, a tourist-infested cultural wonder or gnarly accommodations, this is truth in travel. Well, sorta…
It helps that Pilkington has an endearing what just happened? quality in his every reaction. It helps to see him melt down at Petra carrying a wheelie suitcase. And it helps that he goes off to see the life-altering stuff and kinda-sorta-doesn’t-have-the-best-time. Whether it’s real or well-fabricated, this show has tapped into my own memories of some pretty heinous travel meltdowns: a dying pigeon, for instance, that sent me into a tailspin in Dubrovnik. An entire night spent wandering around the Opera district in Paris looking for a “typical café”…the list goes on.
As much as I don’t want to admit it, sometimes travel (or sometimes me traveling) is an utter failure. And I like watching those failures as they really are, brutal and beautiful and completely fleeting. Real or not, please sir, I want some more.