As I mentioned in my last post, a friend at work suggested this show to me after finding out I enjoyed the show River Monsters. I resisted it at first base solely on the title. I couldn’t imagine a worse program, but I was picturing “idiots” on the level of the reality TV celebrities that appear on the covers of magazines at the grocery store. I also don’t watch too much TV so to start a new show was one of those, “how will I work this into the schedule” prospects. I saw part of a marathon on a Sunday several weeks ago and found it to be one of the funniest TV shows I’ve seen in ages.
The premise is simple, Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant send Karl Pilkington around the world to see the seven wonders of the world. Karl, as I mentioned in my last post is an individual with a simple and unique perspective on things. He’s never cruel or judgmental, he just often expresses his naive or simplistic opinions in as blunt a manner possible. Ricky wanted to torture Karl for fun, as he claims it’s the most expensive practical joke he’s ever played; Steven wanted to broaden Karl’s perspective. Karl was just kind of along for the ride.
There are only eight episodes, and each one is full of terrific moments of Karl exploring foreign countries and cultures. The best aspect of each show are Karl’s opinions and his narration where he breaks down complex social customs in the most simplistic way possible. Often lost, hungry, obsessed with finding familiarity (especially in toilets), and out-of-his-depth, Karl is sent on various expeditions and takes part in numerous surprise activities assigned to him by Ricky and Steven via phone or text. Here are my favorite moments in Series 1:
Episode 1: The Great Wall of China (China)
- Karl experiences the street food vendors in China and witnesses scorpions, geckos, and toads for food. Possibly my favorite moment is when he realizes his driver is eating an egg with a fetus in it!
- Karl does some Kung Fu training with the Shaolin Monks, including watching his instructor throw a needle through a pane of glass (Karl hits the cameraman on his go…)
- Karl’s description of the Great Wall as “the Alright Wall of China.”
Episode 2: The Taj Mahal (India)
- Karl goes to the Kumbh Mela festival to see the various babas present. He describes one as looking like Jim Morrison. And is shocked at the somewhat horrifying abilities of Elephant Baba’s friend…and his walking stick…
- In one of the most endearing moments of the series, Karl spends time with a swamiji. He actually enjoys the experience and just describes him as a “good bloke” rather than any kind of mystical power. And he seemed to be.
- Karl thinks the Taj Mahal was built by a guilty husband. He claims if he built his girlfriend, Suzanne, something like that she’d say, “What’s been going on?!”
Episode 3: Petra (Jordan)
- Karl goes through military training to learn what to do if he’s kidnapped.
- Karl visits Christ’s birthplace but finds the nearby border wall between Palestine and Israel more impactful as it effects the people living on either side every day.
- Karl proves his belief that “it is better to live in a hole and look at a palace than to live in a palace and look at the hole” by spending the night in a cave across from the treasury at Petra; an experience he truly enjoyed!
Episode 4: Chichen Itza (Mexico)
- Karl does some Mexican wrestling with “The Shocker!”
- Eating wasp larvae with Mayans and trading some Monster Munch “crisps” with some of the villagers (which they seemed to enjoy)
- Dancing to British New Wave music and feeding a large lizard hobnobs at Chichen Itza.
Episode 5: The Great Pyramids (Egypt)
- Belly dancing on his Nile Cruise!
- Karl’s comment on a nice apartment near a call to prayer speaker was that the real estate agent only takes people to see the property when the call to prayer isn’t blaring. Another moment where his simple opinion is likely 100% correct!
- Karl description of the great pyramid as a “game of Jenga that’s got out of hand.”
Episode 6: Christ the Redeemer (Brazil)
- Karl dances in a samba line during Rio Carnival!
- Karl’s tour of Rio with local man, Celso.
- Karl sees the Christ the Redeemer statue by helicopter. He is more excited about having ridden in a helicopter than seeing the “wonder.” In his words he “enjoyed riding in the helicopter…and the Jesus thing was alright as well.”
Episode 7: Machu Picchu (Peru)
- Karl camps in the woods with his own home-made toilet (a camping chair with a hole cut into it).
- Karl stays with a tribe that used to be cannibals and attempts to teach them Connect 4 (he thinks they don’t understand it because they never count higher than three in primitive tribes)
- Karl describes Machu Picchu as “magnificent”…in an effort to not have to walk any further around it and just end the show with a long shot from the point they had reached. When he saw the first buildings of the complex he remarks in a desire to stop before reaching the top, “It’s not like I’m looking for a house here. I’m not saying ‘just like this but with more outside space…'”
Episode 8: Karl Comes Home
- Karl reveals his secret word in case he got kidnapped in Israel was “Congress tart.”
- Karl’s scenario where he gets a free night of chicken from NOT having plans and just “going with it.”
- In one of the funniest moments of the series the clip is played (from when Karl was in Peru) where Ricky reveals they changed the name of the program from Karl Pilkington’s Seven Wonders to An Idiot Abroad. Karl’s reaction is priceless.
Next time I’ll take a look at Karl’s travel diary. I read it in only a couple days and it shed extra light on some of the events shown in the show, and and extra insight into the inner-workings of Karl’s mind.
This whole video is good as he talks about tribal customs and invisible fish but the discussion of the name change starts at 4:18 and as always beware the language.