Most comedies really have to work as a whole. If I’m writing up an episode of Community, as I am frequently wont to do, a big section of the episode not working can really drag things down. If there’s an A plot that goes great and a B plot that completely fails, that’s 5-8 minutes of relatively dead air. That drags things down significantly and not only that, it hampers the rest of the episode’s pacing.
The Ricky Gervais Show doesn’t really have the same problem due to how different its format is from every other comedy on the air—sometimes I feel like the only thing that was ever really close to it is Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. It works a lot more like a stream-of-consciousness thought-process than any show with an actual plot could, such that if things don’t work for a couple minutes, as long as they’re significantly different from what’s next it doesn’t detract much from the episode as a whole. The inconsistency is in fact part of its charm.
“Natural History” starts off a bit slow in that way. The cast goes through a number of entertaining enough concepts, including the number of species that exist, Karl’s insane thoughts on inventions and a car of the future without really getting going. Oh, they’re pretty decent, especially when Karl begins explaining how aliens were clearly the root of computer chips, but not spectacular. Not for lack of trying, either, as these topics seem ripe for some awful ideas from Karl. But he’s a moody guy and above all unpredictable; sometimes he just won’t take the bait.
Then Ricky tells a story about trying to create the “hardest” animal ever and for whatever reason magic happens. This is actually one of the few times Ricky’s ever offered a story on the TV show, but his story’s mostly just cute, not entertaining. Karl’s ideal animal is amazing, though, completely memorable and also one of the high points of the TV show. The show’s design for his animal, which is part slug, part armadillo, part owl and part peacock, is a masterpiece. Each piece of Karl’s reasoning for the animal is worse than the last, and at my apartment we had to replay much of this sequence because I was laughing too hard.
The episode can only go down from here, and it does a bit, with the discussion of dodos a bit of a non-starter. It ends strong, though, and as Ricky guessed sex change operations are a great way to poke at Karl’s unique mind. It’s not the strongest finish, but it gets the job done, and it’s impossible to follow after Karl’s “hardest” animal ever. That probably should have been the episode’s end.
In all, two thirds of the episode was a mite disappointing, especially after last week. One third was amazing, though, and that was the part that sticks out in my mind. So as a whole… it was still a glowing success, definitely a great half hour of television. Maybe I’m biased, but just take a look at that creature.
•”A spider won’t be unlocking any mysteries.”
•”Aids isn’t “a natural thing.” – umm… what?
•”Look at stuff that’s being invented now: the frisbe.”
•Karl came up with a see through toaster… which actually doesn’t sound half bad.
•”I’m sick of playing I spy, I’ll have a shit.”
•”Computers are a good thing and it baffles me as to how it came about. … there must have been an alien involved.”
•Karl’s da vinci monkey is an inspired bit of animation.
•How we differentiate from chimps: “that must be the ass.”
•Actually, the part about thumping a monkey was also pretty great this episode.
•Here in the states, you thumped a monkey sounds pretty dirty. Like something you do in a porno theater.
•Little Ricky and his friends are cute.
•A nice little moment in the episode when Karl pisses off Stephen by talking about him as a freak. Looks like he really did get under Stephen’s skin.
•”That’s not a man having a baby … that’s a woman having a beard.”
•”They’re not a great look. I know that, everyone knows that, it’s just the way they are.” -Karl on male genitals.