One of the things that An Idiot Abroad has always struggled with is giving the show a storyline. It’s one of those problems of “reality” television that, while we wish for events to transpire onscreen in the same way that they actually happened, as humans we also want to watch a story rather than a series of largely unconnected events. Travelogues don’t really have a story, so An Idiot Abroad gives us one in two different ways. The more simple of these is by setting it up so that Karl has to cross through multiple hurdles every week before he gets to the actual bucket list items. More personally, the show has always been telling the same story, that of the provincial, narrow-minded Karl Pilkington being confronted with his prejudices and, hopefully, losing them.
“Swim with Dolphins” is an episode that in particular is about switching up Karl’s journey, such that while his eventual dip into the water is in Australia, almost the entirety of the episode takes place in Thailand. Not only that but, the title itself is misleading. Once Karl does get to the end of his journey, he finds that Ricky and Stephen have in fact arranged for him to swim with sharks instead. The biggest surprise of the whole episode is that he actually agrees to do it, even after learning that the man who runs the shark-swimming has himself been bitten by a shark (in a nice bit of symmetry with a snake handler earlier who lost fingers to a cobra).
The majority of the episode, though, concerns the hoops Karl’s jumping through in Thailand. This begins with meeting with and then being given a makeover by Thai ladyboys, i.e. transvestites and transexuals. Karl’s initially homophobic and gender normative remarks on the subject quickly give way to just being impressed. Not only that, Karl clearly enjoys their company and for everything he said earlier, enjoys being dressed up. While Karl’s incredibly slow speed of learning doesn’t make me believe he’s removed all of his prejudices about that aspect of queerness, any step in the right direction is nice. Also: he sure makes a hideous woman.
Karl is also briefly trained by a Muay Thai gym before taking to a fight, which fortunately for him is blind. He’s exasperated about this, and says some ignorant things about the blind, but it’s an entertaining part of the episode. I’m not sure why Ricky and Stephen always want him to fight so much, but it may be that he always seems to be up for it. Afterwards he gets a massage from a women’s prison and we hear some choice remarks of his on the subject of rehabilitation.
At this point the episode meanders more than usual, which isn’t terrible but also isn’t ideal because the show really needs to put Karl through various gauntlets as often as possible. Him simply wandering around in other cultures is interesting at first, but soon becomes wearying. Karl visits a snake handler, prepares food with a rural community (and unlike in similar scenes of season one, he seems genuinely grateful for the food) and eventually winds up with a group of monkeys. Anyone who’s ever listened or watched The Ricky Gervais Show will know that Karl’s infatuated with monkeys. However, while he’s always been negative towards queerness, the disabled and convicts, the flip side of this is that the monkeys he’s lionized for so long are jerks. And for some reason, he’s surprised by this. Karl has always seemed to think that monkeys are just people and here he has to realize that they truly aren’t human.
This episode can’t compare with last week’s, but it had all the right pieces for a good episode of An Idiot Abroad. The “events” here were spread a bit thin, but it was still thoroughly enjoyable. I’m also appreciative of how different the rest of the season looks to be—by the end of An Idiot Abroad’s first season episodes became a bit same-y, while here its variance week to week is really driving the show forward.
•Karl on dolphins: “They say they can cure ill people.” -I believe he’s thinking of faeries.
•I enjoyed learning that he real matter for Karl in sexuality is how can he use gender stereotypes to do less work.
•“I thought the fart was a human thing.”
•Rupert Murdoch naked looks like, “A tortoise without a shell on.”
•It shows how much Karl has grown that he eats the food he’s cooked in the Thai village… that being said, he thinks the plants and animals there don’t touch the local water?
•One step above Kylie Minogue: the pickled body of a murderer/rapist.
•Why did the pixelate the half-heads in the museum?
•“I love a monkey me.”
•”I’m in the toilet because everything I need is in here.”