An Idiot Abroad has always been a picaresque show, but whenever possible this has been tempered by heading towards a goal. While the journey provides the adventure, this prize at the end has frequently been exciting in itself, and even the anticlimaxes have been interesting. “Route 66” takes this to the furthest extreme, though, in that the entire episode is the journey. Travelling down the road isn’t so exciting—it’s a highway, that’s pretty much it—so as usual there are a series of events for Karl to check out along his route.
Part of why this episode is such a letdown is because my anticipation was so high. As an American, this is the episode I wanted to see (and while I realize the whale watching episode also took place in America, the northernmost part of Alaska is in most respects far more foreign than most other countries). How would the show lampoon us, what weird quirks would it pull out to laugh at? Well, there were a few, certainly, but for the most part they weren’t that interesting.
Karl performs in a high school Glee Club performance of Van Halen’s “Jump,” visits a cuddle therapy hippie commune and goes gold mining with some guy he meets in a trailer park. While it’s great seeing Karl onstage, or awkwardly keeping away from even hugging the strangers he meets, there’s something missing. Partially it’s the drive to get somewhere, and partially I think it’s the fragmented nature of the episode. We see him skip from Oklahoma back to Arizona and then suddenly into an Indiana Amish community pretty much at random in a way that anyone familiar with American geography will find disconcerting. “Route 66” is always trying to find a shape, so it attempts to edit the episode together in an artificial one that never quite works. The scene that best encapsulates this comes when Karl visits a house that recycles trash into beautiful orientation… yet fails to meet anyone who lives there. It’s just one more missed opportunity in a disappointing episode.
Even the otherwise incredible climax of “Route 66” feels strange and sudden. After refusing to bungee jump, then lying about bungee jumping, Karl is sent to air walk. He doesn’t have to, though, Ricky tells him, rather he has a choice: he can air walk or participate in a Mr. Leather competition at a gay nightclub in Chicago. Karl chooses to air walk (which isn’t a huge surprise given that it’s in the show’s opening credits every week), and it’s a beautiful sequence of filmmaking and funny and incredible. But it’s also really short, and we don’t learn much about it. We barely get any of Karl’s thoughts about this or the competition, instead they’re cross-cut and next thing we know he’s up there on the plane. While in another show this might be enough, An Idiot Abroad is about Karl’s thoughts and comments. Removing them really takes away from the on-screen action, turning this into a more typical reality show rather than the satire it should be.
“Route 66” was the weakest episode of the season since the first, and it really was all in the editing. Karl himself was less the centerpiece here, instead it was the events, and while those are intermittently entertaining, that’s not why anyone watches the show. It’s to hear him gripe and complain and say really awful things, and while he certainly did some of that here it was toned down. His search for a gift for Suzanne gave things some structure, but the meandering nature combined with more focus on events stripped the episode of a lot of its satire and turned it into a letdown.
•The last thing Karl got excited about: nothing. Someone really needs to get him some antidepressant.
•Karl seems weirdly unclear at the beginning about what constitutes a beach and what constitute a road.
•Then again, he seems equally baffled at correctly eating an orange.
•Karl: “I don’t want fun.”
•“Come on, ‘ave a jump!”
•Likewise, Karl seems to truly misunderstand recycling.
•Karl’s pajamas are hideous and make him look like he should be institutionalized. They also sure get a lot of play in this episode.
•Speaking of which, did anyone else spend a lot of time wondering where Karl was sleeping this whole time? It felt like we were missing so much between edits.
•Suzanne remains a completely unimaginable being.
•I watch a lot of British films and television, but it’s still news to me that trailer parts don’t exist there.
•”Your dreams should never be better than your real life … unless you’re a sloth.”