LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Better comedy through lovable buffoonery and complete obliviousness made Ricky Gervais (and frequent comedy partner Stephen Merchant) famous.
It might have started with 2001's "The Office" and continued with HBO's "Extras," but Gervais has since shifted his attention from TV to film, live shows and even stuffed animals.
Since 2001, Gervais and Merchant have been behind a recurring series that landed them in the Guinness Book of World Records for most-downloaded podcast. That show found its muse in producer Karl Pilkington, a laconic sad sack who quickly became the centerpiece of the show.
So here is HBO's latest Gervais partnering, a live version of "The Ricky Gervais Show" podcast, premiering Friday. And that's all it is -- the podcast, but in animated form -- which means the trio stride into a soundproof booth, sit down and begin talking as their live figures slowly turn into animated ones.
The animation (by Wildbrain, home to "Yo Gabba Gabba," among others) blends elements of Hanna-Barbera simplicity with Genndy Tartakovsky and is colorful and surreal; Gervais, for example, resembles Fred Flintstone's toothier, shorter cousin.
But there are problems from the start: The static nature of three talking heads (even in cartoon form) is dull, and the intermittent non-studio interstitials used to illustrate the discussion fail to provide enough of a change. Watching cartoon characters laugh at one another feels recursively silly, and not in a good way. (Truthfully, the real-life people on the show are far more animated than the 2-D cartoon characters can ever be.)
But the main issue is that this show is not really about Gervais, or even Merchant. It is the Karl Pilkington show, because the essence of all content involves Gervais or Merchant prodding Pilkington into sharing his odd theories about the world (for example, nothing worthwhile was invented post-1900), then turning into his sneering, slightly hostile peanut gallery. Gervais even calls Pilkington a "little round-headed buffoon." This makes Pilkington seem the kinder person in the room, and the tone rings wrong.
Perhaps "Ricky Gervais" could have worked as a series of five-minute YouTube segments. As it stands, there's not enough variety and too much focus on the one person most people turning on HBO have the least interest in. Come back, Ricky, and quit laughing at Karl. The audience prefers you as their buffoon, so they can be the ones doing the laughing.