TF TV Review: ‘An Idiot Abroad’ In Japan

Creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant very much added to their already impressive portfolio of television work last year with ‘An Idiot Abroad’ on Sky One which featured their mate Karl Pilkington visiting the seven wonders of the world. In some way the episode featuring Petra and the Dead Sea inspired me and certainly whetted my appetite for going to Jordan back in June of this year.

Now for anyone who hasn’t seen it the format may just sound like any other travel documentary show but Karl is a wonder in himself as he has lived a very sheltered life but is more than happy with it as he never wanted to travel and didn’t go abroad till he was 21. He is very British as he’s not easily impressed especially when something is considered to be wonderful by so many. He has a very unique outlook on life and speaks his mind without thinking in a way which is not so prevalent in todays P.C. society. This is both funny and stupid but his comments really do come across as being without any cynicism or nastiness.

 

Despite his protests at the end of the first series the show came back in September for a second series which saw Karl checking off some of the ‘100 Things to do before you die’. He got to choose his ‘Bucket List’ but of course Gervais and Merchant threw in a few surprises and so far we have seen Karl living on his own desert island in Vanuatu, doing the trans-siberian express, swimming with dolphins (changed to sharks!) in Australia, whale watching in Alaska, meeting a Gorilla in Uganda and driving Route 66 in the USA. The final episode of the series was aired last Friday night in Britain and featured Japan which I was very excited about as I have absolutely loved all the episodes so far giving me some real laugh-out-loud moments.

On his arrival in Japan he went to a cat cafe which (to most foreigners) is one of those quirky ‘only-in-Japan’ weird things and is certainly not something that appeals to me but that may be because I have a cat allergy! Karl then did a bit of sumo albeit with his boxer shorts still on underneath the ‘nappy’. In true ignorant British style he says “Its just something for fat people to do which is good as there aren’t many sports for fat people!” As he pointed out at the time he has already done wrestling during the series so this did feel a bit tiresome as we’ve seen him beaten up before.

The beauty of the show is that Karl has no idea of what he will be doing or where he will be going in the lead up to the main reason which he is in that country/part of the world for. Gervais and Merchant feel that he needs a cosy hotel to sleep in after his sumo encounter which (for me) inevitably resulted in him spending a night in a capsule hotel (“a coffin with a cat-flap” to quote Karl!) which is still one of those things I’ve never done during my time in Japan. Neither have I been on the shinkansen (bullet train) which takes him to some place in the countryside which I’ve not even heard of. As a man of simple pleasures who prefers fish-fingers to sushi, eating a fermented fish delicacy does not please him too much!

He then meets a zen master in Kyoto which leads to some funny scenes such as mopping a floor which was cleaned a few hours earlier. Why bother?! Japanese tea ceremony is something I’ve heard a lot about but is also a tradition which I will just never understand. Likewise for Pilkington who moans in trademark style about it taking so long (“they couldn’t get a job in a cafe because the queues would be horrendous”) though by the end he does change his tune a bit saying that its great that they’ve made an event out of something which most of us do without even thinking about it. The main reason Pilkington was in Japan was to climb Mount Fuji but before he does that he gets a good (?) view of it from Fuji Q Highland. The views from the top of Fuji itself were far more impressive than what I witnessed when I climbed it back in 2007.

Though still great I found the Japan episode of this series (S02 E07) the least funny or interesting one which I can only guess is due to my emotional attachment to the country and the fact that most of the stuff featured wasn’t new to me. In fact it may not have been new to those who have never stepped foot in Japan as the likes of capsule hotels, robots, pre-work exercises, pointless inventions, electronic toilets, sumo and so on have been seen in a number of British shows about Japan from the likes of Justin Lee CollinsAdam & JoeKelly Osbourne and Jonathan Ross.

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