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Series / An Idiot Abroad

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"We're not having 'An Idiot Abroad!' It's 'Karl Pilkington's Seven Wonders.' I've been through a load of shit here - you're sat there giving them bloody shit titles."


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 ("It’s like a game of Jenga that’s got out of hand").


The second season debuted in September 2011 on Sky One 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, Karl Whale-Watching in Alaska, Karl traveling down Route 66 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 (Ricky is who he had in mind), Gervais provided him with Harry Potter and Star Wars star 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:

  • 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.
  • Apology Gift: Karl speculates that the Taj Mahal is this, and states that this is the only reason he gets flowers for his girlfriend.
  • 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.
  • Badass Boast: In the first trip to China, Karl meets a coffin maker sanding a coffin outside his client's house. When Karl asks if it would be too macabre to see her coffin every day, the client matter-of-factly tells Karl she isn't afraid to die.
  • Body Horror:
    • 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, the Blu-Ray/DVD release or the Netflix version.
    • The 'Elephant Baba' - so called because of the deformity of his face, which, naturally, resembles Joseph Merrick ‘The Elephant Man’, 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.
  • Butt-Monkey: Don't expect Karl to ever get any leeway.
    • This trope becomes almost literal in the Season 2 finale when Ricky and Steve finally badger Karl into getting his prostate checked, on camera.
  • Blatant Lies: While with the (former) cannibal tribe in Peru, Karl tries to get out of eating some of the food he is offered by claiming to be a vegetarian.
  • Call-Back:
    • 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.)
  • Catchphrase:
    • Karl:
      • "I'm not having this. You can fuck right off."
      • "This is doing me head in."
      • "Weird, innit?"
    • Stephen: "It's not a holiday."
    • Ricky: (insane laughter)
      • "Alright boy?" (when Karl answers his phone)
  • 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.
  • Character Filibuster: The show is mostly Karl telling us what he thinks of the world.
  • 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.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Stephen Merchant is nowhere to be seen in the third season. (He was busy with his new HBO sitcom Hello Ladies.)
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • Karl himself.
    • The mad woman in the tribal village in Peru.
  • Cloudcuckooland: What Karl thinks the rest of the world is like.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Ricky and Steve organise what Karl does, at one point making him sleep in a cave.
    Karl: "Why?"
    • Amusingly, Karl finds this the most relaxing part of the trip.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Karl doesn't quite get the concept of a "Bucket List," thinking that it means things you do as you are dying.
  • Companion Cube: In a Shout-Out to the movie Cast Away Ricky sends Karl a soccer ball with a face drawn on it to keep him company on his desert island. Karl eventually kicks it into the sea.
  • Covert Distress Code: Karl's distress code in case he gets kidnapped in the Middle East is 'congress tart'.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Karl.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Karl in drag: "I don't think I'd fancy me if I was me looking at this."
  • Early-Bird Cameo: In Series 2, Karl makes a phone call to Warwick Davis, who becomes a main character in Series 3.
  • Eat That: Karl has been forced or tricked into eating testicles more than once. His reluctant sampling of foreign cuisine has also included toad and years-old fermented fish (which promptly came right back up afterward).
  • Fantastically Indifferent: The world's wonders and it's "once in a lifetime" bucket-list experiences generally pass Karl by.
  • Foreign Queasine:
    • 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 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 was frequently booked in the most awful hotels in the worst parts of whatever country he's sent to in the first and second series.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. See below and the page quote.
    • Karl's cab driver when he went to Russia was a really antisocial grump who seems to outright tell tourists how much it sucks there.
    Cab Driver: I hope you don't value your life too much and got good life insurance. The brakes in this car just failed. It's the worst car I ever bought, it's British, and I never thought a car could be made that bad.
    Karl: Alright...
    Cab Driver: What brings you here?
    Karl: Well I'm going on the train, the Trans Siberian Railway. It's things to do before you die. You been on it?
    Cab Driver: Why would I want to do something that's totally predictable? I'll leave it to you British. You will be packed in a smelly carriage with Russians who will not bathe for a week, but will drink a lot. Siberia is nothing, just one huge field.
    Karl: You're not selling it to me...
    Cab Driver: Anyway, what did you want to see, the Red Square?
    Karl: Whatever you think is worth seeing here.
    Cab Driver: Nothing.
  • Little People Are Surreal:
    • 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.
  • Los Angeles: In Season 2 Episode 6 “Route 66” the episode started with Karl beginning the journey from Santa Monica pier.
  • 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.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: While traveling down America's Route 66, Karl stops off at a hippie commune in Joshua Tree, California and participates in a "cuddle party". Where people cuddle and hug.
  • Once an Episode: Karl getting the low down of a place followed by packing. And once a season he seems to have to go to China for one reason or another.
  • Panda-ing to the Audience: Karl and Warwick dress up as pandas to enter a panda enclosure in China.
  • Political Overcorrectness: Karl complains at one point that Leprechauns prefer to be called Gnomes. Ricky howls with laughter.
  • Product Placement: The words "Sky1" and "in HD" are said Once an Episode. It's a little odd when played in America, where most people don't know what "Sky One" is.
  • Robinson Crusoe: In the second season Karl's overnight stay on his own island is likened to this, complete with a "Man Friday" to help set up Karl's hut and provide him with food.
  • Running Gag: When talking about Karl's bucket list tasks, Ricky usually tries to get Karl to do them nude to no avail.
  • Sadist Show:
    • 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 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Sometimes when an activity is too extreme for Karl (such as bull riding in Mexico), he will just flat out leave.
  • 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 completely unmoved 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.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Sometimes Ricky sets Karl up with hotels that have first world luxuries like private toilets or a bed.
  • 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 rather than a performer.
  • 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.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Karl flatly refuses to bungee jump.