| 10.2°C Dublin

Idiot has last laugh

An Idiot Abroad is a travel show featuring grumpy Karl Pilkington, friend of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, and it goes against the received wisdom that travelling is a mind-broadening experience.

The show basically pivots on the fact that Pilkington is an entertainingly narrow-minded genius who has no desire to travel, and so Gervais and Merchant find it hilarious to make him do so. Surprisingly, it is actually kind of hilarious.

Each episode involves Gervais and Merchant devising travelling escapades for Pilkington, who then grumbles, scowls and utters weirdly pointed critiques of modern life. In last night's instalment, on being told by a chuckling Gervais that he would be swimming with dolphins in Australia, Pilkington is unimpressed.


"They say they [dolphins] are as intelligent as a three-year-old. But what has a three-year-old done?" he says. "I've never met a three-year-old and thought, 'I'd love to spend more time with it'."

Of course, it would be far too simple if Pilkington was just plonked into the sea with a toddler-like dolphin. So they first send him to Thailand where he is frightened by snakes, mugged by monkeys, blind-folded then assaulted by a Thai-boxer and confused by ladyboys.

So confused is Pilkington, that Vivienne, his guide into the world of ladyboyhood, is soon dressing him up in makeup, a wig and a dress. "I look like ... " he says, and pauses. "You probably don't know Dempsey from Dempsey And Makepeace," he adds with weary resignation.

On finally arriving in Australia, Karl discovers he won't in fact, be swimming with dolphins, but with sharks. He's squeezed into a wetsuit, placed into a metal cage and has a panic attack. He's then given a cup-a-soup, the virtues of which he passionately extolls, before he's placed back into the cage, dunked into the sea and surrounded by sharks. An Idiot Abroad is a programme for everyone who likes the idea of travel but secretly derives more pleasure from a nice, soothing cup-a-soup.

Now, a few observations about X Factor USA, which last night entered its Bootcamp phase and featured a large number of emotionally distressed wannabes of all shapes, sizes and mental-health conditions (at this stage in the competition most of them can sing, although it would be more useful for the US economy if they could also make cars, white goods and electronic devices at reasonable prices).

Firstly, I'm impressed by the judges' commute of choice: a convoy of individually occupied SUVs. This scorn for the environment could become a more explicit feature.


Shots of weeping contestants could be interspersed with footage of Simon Cowell setting fire to oil wells and dumping coal into the ocean. "This is what I think of that performance," Nicole Scherzinger could say, before dipping a seagull into a vat of oil (the judges' chairs could be flanked with these vats, some of them burning) and throwing it at the stage. Paula Abdul might then wipe her over-active tear ducts using a basket of fume-dazed squirrels.

Secondly, the repeated use of classical and operatic music on the soundtrack is clearly the editor's way of saying: "What you are hearing now is actual music, composed and performed by people who have quietly slaved away at their craft. Can you see how different it is from the vaguely tuneful cries-for-help emitted by this collection of personality-disordered circus clowns?"

Thirdly, if this was really a programme about dreams coming true, as the contestants and judges continuously claim, it would feature panicked contestants doing exams with no pants on, finding secret rooms in their house, or being chased through the city by a giant poetry-reciting Michael D Higgins (this last dream might be unique to me). They probably wouldn't be warbling, crooning and yodelling on front of a row of sadistic millionaires.

An Idiot Abroad HHHHI