An Idiot Abroad is a travel series starring Karl Pilkington (and to a lesser extent his "friends" Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais). It initially aired on Sky1 in the UK from 23rd September to 11th November 2010 and started airing in January 2011 in North America on Discovery's Science Channel. It was advertised as "a social experiment gone horribly wrong". Supposedly, Karl was told that the show would be called Karl Pilkington's Seven Wonders and only found out that the name was going to be changed when he was in Peru.The working title for the first season was "Karl Pilkington's Seven Wonders", and involved Karl traveling to the seven wonders of the world - The Great Wall of China ("It goes on for miles, but so does the M6"), Christ the Redeemer in Brazil ("It's like a big pylon"), Macchu Picchu in Peru (he never made it), Chichen Itza in Mexico, the Taj Mahal in India, Petra in Jordan, and the Great Pyramids in Egypt ("Itís like a game of Jenga thatís got out of hand").The second season debuted in September 2011 on Sky1 and January 2012 on The Science Channel. This time the format called for Karl to achieve a series of "bucket list" items culled from a survey of things people would like to do before they die. It featured, among other things, Karl spending a night on his own desert island, Karl riding the Trans-Siberian Express, and Karl climbing Mount Fuji.A third series began airing in November 2012, with Karl assigned the task of replicating Marco Polo's historic journey. In response to Karl's insistence he be given someone to tag along with, Gervais provided him with Ewok legend Warwick Davis. This edition was shorter, only three episode with a fourth episode of wrap-up (the previous two seasons were seven episodes with an eighth wrap-up episode).The main attraction of the show isn't seeing the sights, it's Karl's unusual philosophy and outlook on life.
This show provides examples of:
Adult Fear: Some of the things Ricky and Steve arrange for Karl to do are things that a lot of people would be genuinely scared by; the shark cage, kidnapping preparedness training and the bungee jumping especially.
Amusing Injuries: Karl attempts a Kung Fu move: throwing a needle through a small pane of glass to puncture a balloon. He winds up completely missing everything and spearing his cameraman in the bicep.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: During his epic summit of Mt. Fuji, Karl gets deep about his personal failures, including failing to finish school, failing to get married, and failing to finish wallpapering his kitchen.
As Himself: The debate over how authentic Karl's TV persona is has raged for years. Certain segments of An Idiot Abroad, like when Pilkington breaks down laughing when on the phone with Ricky, hint that Karl plays up to the cameras to a certain extent. His change of heart on Foreign Queasine in Season 3 (see entry below), when all of a sudden he has no problem eating sheep testicles, also hints at this, though it could be that by that point he simply got used to that aspect of travel.
One of the yoga practitioners Karl meets in India wraps his junk around a cane, ties it in a knot, and proceeds to perform yoga with it. Covered by the Censor Box during the US broadcast, of course, but doesn't leave much to the imagination. Not censored in the original UK broadcast or the Australian broadcast, nor the Blu-Ray/DVD release.
The 'Elephant Baba' - so called because of the deformity of his face, which, naturally, resembles an elephant, at least to some degree. He seems like a perfectly nice chap, however.
During the second season while in Thailand, Karl ends up visiting a medical museum. It's loaded with this.
When Karl is asked to confess sins by a Chinese fortune teller, he confesses to stealing Mars bars from his old boss - a story he told on The Ricky Gervais Show.
In the second season's Trans-Siberian Railway episode, Karl gets told the end of the line is in Beijing and he is going there. Karl then talks about how much he hated the first time he went there, back in Season 1.
Camp Gay: Several people Karl meets in Brazil. (It's during Carnival)
Character Development: In the first episode of the second series, it became apparent that Karl, while still a reluctant traveler, was far more relaxed around different cultures, and not quite as awkward as he was in series one. At one point he even manages to laugh along with Ricky on the phone. This was probably inevitable.
By series three, he's quite used to the bizarre Chinese food, and casually tucks in as new traveller Warwick struggles with a rabbit's head.
Chubby Chaser: Karl appreciates the full-figured Mexican women. For once, it's not one of his abstract statements and actually displays the profound side he only occasionally displays in The Ricky Gervais Show, as well as an awareness, surprisingly, of contemporary body issues for women in much of the western world. Whilst mixed in with his usual pondering, he explains that he admires that the Mexican women can eat what they like and not worry about it, and actively seem to like their food. Western women, he suggests, wouldn't be able to do so.
Subverted in another episode where he visits a "monkey villiage" in Thailand. He's quite annoyed by how agressive the monkeys are around him (especially when he has food) and compares them to Ricky and Steve.
Karl feels this way about people eating insects and chicken fetuses in China.
He feels this way about the camel's penis and balls but doesn't seem to have disliked it, just what it is.
The tequila worm he eats in Mexico.
The traditional sushi he's offered in Japan. Karl does this a lot.
Yet by series 3 Karl has seemingly grown accustomed to eating strange foreign food and it's Warwick who's more grossed out by boiled rabbit head and lambs testicles, much to Karl's evident amusement.
Foreshadowing: Every time Karl says something he doesn't want to do or wouldn't normally happen in the place he's going to, Ricky and Steve make sure it happens. Several examples being, he suggests that Chinese people eat frog (which isn't that common), so Ricky and Steve make sure he comes across frogs as much as possible during his trip. Another is him confusing the Brazil Carnival with a Gay Pride parade. Naturally, this means they get him to stay with an extremely Camp Gay who turns out to be a drag queen, as well as having him enter the carnival himself dressed as what he describes as 'Andy Pandy on crack'. He also suggests that he'd prefer to be in a cave looking at Petra than actually being inside Petra...so they make him spend a night in a cave. Of course, he actually enjoys this.
Gender-Blender Name: Karl likes that the transgender lady in Bangkok is called 'Vivian' as it's a "possible man's name as well" so "it's like she's not trying to con anyone".
Going Native: The Desert Island show is basically one big exercise in getting Karl as uncomfortable as possible.
Hilarity Ensues: Karl is frequently booked in the shittiest hotels in the worst parts of whatever country he's sent to.
Only rarely is he ever told ahead of time what he will be doing in the country he visits. He's typically given a "visit X historical monument/landmark" and is ordered along the way to wrestle with luchadores, ride a roller coaster, visit a tribal village, etc. Taken to the extreme in the Middle East episode, when Karl is only told he is going to be participating in a mock kidnapping as it is happening.
I Ate WHAT?: In Cairo— camel's testicle and penis. In China, frog.
Idiot Has A Point: Half the fun of the show is that Karl frequently comes up with a valid point about of some quirk of a foreign culture.
"'Awesome'. I wish he'd stop saying that. Everything's awesome, I've got no point to judge things by any more"
Idiot Hero: Of the Loveable Idiot type. Ricky accurately describes him as a "stupid round-headed twonk" and a "chimp-like Manc".
In Name Only: Season 3 leaves out great big chunks of Marco Polo's route to China.
Insane Troll Logic: At one point Karl claims there are fish so transparent, they're not even sure they exist.
Insistent Terminology: Karl keeps complaining that Steve and Ricky are sending him on crap holidays, they keep reminding him it's not a holiday.
Israelis with Infrared Missiles: Karl visits the Dead Sea and there's a glimpse of another beachgoer packing some serious heat as he towels off. Unsurprising, given that most of the male population in Israel is in the army.
There are also a few shots of Israeli soldiers patrolling in Jerusalem. Karl also ends up going to an anti-terrorist/kidnapping training camp staffed by former Israeli servicemen. Of course, Ricky neglected to tell him he would be taking it ahead of time.
Jerk Ass: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. See below and the page quote.
In Season 2 Karl visits a Chinese "dwarf village" where dwarves live in little mushroom houses and put on shows for tourists. He calls his friend Warwick Davis to make sure it's ok and is highly annoyed when Davis tells him that no, it's not ok.
This is one of the main hooks of Season 3, as Warwick Davis goes along with Karl.
Masked Luchador: Karl trains with a small gang of these in Mexico and gets thoroughly beaten-up and sick (although the latter could be because he drank the water).
Mundane Utility: While Karl is at Chichen Itza, his girlfriend calls him up to ask how to work the DVD player.
Sort of. Ricky and Stephen delight in making Karl as uncomfortable as possible, but most of the things they send him to do are usually thought of as being either dream vacation spots (in Series 1) or "one in a lifetime" experiences (Series 2). It's just that Karl either doesn't want to do them or can't see the appeal. Stephen often says "I'm jealous of you mate" or "I'd really like to go there" just to rub it in.
They do take pains to make things unpleasant for Karl. For example, one of his "bucket list" items was to go whale-watching. So Ricky and Stephen send him whale-watching...to Barrow, Alaska, where he is tasked with emptying out neighborhood septic tanks before going to sea on a commercial fishing boat where he was expected to work. By the time they reach the whales Karl is too seasick to care.
In Season 3, Warwick Davis gets a first-class cabin for their cruise up the Yangtze River. Pilkington gets a communal room with four other Chinese people, and some awful toilets.
Shout-Out: At one point in the first season Karl says he thought his travelogue was going to be like Michael Palin's. Karl also stays at one of the same hotels Palin stayed at (of course, in a much shabbier room) and sees an autographed picture of Palin hanging on a wall.
The theme to BBC Radio 4's long running chat show Desert Island Discs plays as Karl paddles out to his island.
The So-Called Coward: For all that Karl is scared of most of the things he tries he seems completelyunmoved in the Medical Museum in Thailand; a place with the preserved body of an executed murderer on display, and a genuine preserved bisected head in two separate cases (the facial features of the head are actually pixellated to spare viewers from nightmares). He even states that he wouldn't object to having the two halves of the head as bookends.
Stealth Parody: Given Ricky and Stephen's comedy style the show comes across as something of an intentional subversion of the usual television travelogue format, and of "100 Things to Do Before You Die Lists".
Tastes Like Chicken: While in China, Karl was told that frogs (he keeps calling them "toads") taste like chicken.
Transsexual: Karl meets some Thai "ladyboys" in Season 2. They dress him up as a girl.
Too Kinky to Torture: While there are plenty of instances where the various activities Steve and Ricky send Karl on do exactly as intended, a few times he ends up enjoying whatever crazy things they have planned for him. Standout examples include the cave in Petra and being buried alive in Russia.
Unusually Uninteresting Sight: On a beach in Israel, no one except him cares about the IDF soldier in swim trunks still packing his assault rifle.
What the Hell, Hero?: In China in Season 2, Karl visits a village for midgets and dwarves, which is proportional to their size. When he calls up Warwick Davis to make sure this is OK, Warwick points out that it's completely exploitive and he's disappointed in Karl. Karl counters with the inane assumption that the dwarf in a king's outfit is actually a king.
Writer Revolt: Karl occasionally refuses to do things ("I'm not going on a camel again, I'm not going on a camel again, I'm not going on a camel again"), or gets bored and wanders off. He doesn't even get to Macchu Picchu in the end. In Season 2 he flatly refuses to take a bungee jump. In the end, he goes to the birthplace of the sport, a small tribe, and takes a ridiculously wimpy five-foot "bungee jump," much to Ricky's amusement.