Watching The Ricky Gervais Show is a lot like getting really drunk and shooting the shit with a couple of talented wiseasses and an unfortunate bloke who’s slower on the uptake, perhaps in a basement that smells of beer, weed, and microwave food. The show, the most recent in a series of variations of a radio show that Gervais and writing partner Stephen Merchant started prior to achieving global fame with The Office, has a setup that’s pure Gervais in its stripped-down simplicity and potential for embarrassment: Ricky, Stephen, and producer and colleague Karl Pilkington sit in a radio station and engage in the kind of wherever-the-afternoon-takes-us back and forth that will be familiar to fans of any kind of podcast or talk radio program. The resulting conversational skits are then rendered in knowingly primitive animation that suggests a cross between classic Hannah-Barbera and The Ren & Stimpy.
As a Gervais fan with a limited tolerance for talk radio, I find the show to be a mixed bag that’s consistent in its inconsistency: Every episode is about the same quality and the good riffs usually arrive at similar points over the course of the 23-minute running time. The first five minutes or so are usually patchy as the performers find their groove (all episodes are taken from previously recorded material during the show’s incarnation as a hit podcast), while the remaining 15 minutes are a rollercoaster ride of material that’s alternately brilliant, mediocre, and tedious.
The appeal of The Ricky Gervais Show is its lightning pace, which allows you to catch the great bits on the rebound while painlessly propelling you through the material that doesn’t quite work. The episodes that kick off the third season include a wonderful riff on the preponderance of charities (Karl insists that only one charity should be allowed to solicit per calendar year) and a movie pitch that’s a loopy combination of the Tom Cruise–starring Mission: Impossible and John Frankenheimer’s strange Seconds. There are also a number of other smaller touches, such as an idea for a coaster that’s attached to a drinking glass, that have an amusing hint of the dada.
But despite its various flights of inspiration, The Ricky Gervais Show is too settled into a predictable groove. The punchlines are almost always centered on Karl’s flamboyant ignorance and idiocy, which Ricky and Stephen eagerly exploit in the hopes of mining comedic gold. A series as uneven as this could benefit from a looser structure that occasionally allows Ricky and Stephen to serve as the butt of a few jokes, but by this point the show’s formulaic template appears to be pretty cemented. The Ricky Gervais Show isn’t quite what Alvy Singer might call a dead shark, but it’s looking a little wounded.