The lovable idiot


Moving beyond The Three Stooges

The Three Stooges was arguably one of the first situation comedies, formulating the traditional concept we unconsciously accept with every new program that makes it on the air. The program was founded on over-the-top slapstick comedy. Starting as a vaudeville act, they transitioned into short comedy films in the '30s and '40s, eventually making it onto the nascent television market in 1958. Back then, the Stooges represented the essential character of "the fool" in 20th century media, something that is still in fashion in different ways with several shows today.

The most conventional of my selected television ignoramuses would have to be Kenny Powers (played by Danny Mcbride) of HBO's Eastbound And Down. The show follows Powers, an uncouth, former major league pitcher, in his attempts at romantic conquest and regaining his athletic form and success. In this second season, Kenny manages to exile himself in Mexico, which includes becoming a part-time cock fighter, assuming the identity of his former assistant (the idolizing Stevie Janowski, played by Steve Little) and eventually joining a local floundering baseball outfit.

EAD often devolves into cliché, with a temporary Mexican midget sidekick, donkey jokes and plentiful stereotypes providing cheap laughs. It isn't a particularly deep experience but it usually succeeds at its goal: being a weekly equivalent to "outrageous" summer popcorn movies like Talladega Nights, Anchorman and Semi-Pro. This shouldn't be surprising, considering the show is executive produced by Will Ferrell, Jody Hill and Adam Mackay. These are the purveyors of gross-out humour and easy sentimentality that make those Kevin Spade and Chris Farley movies from the '90s seem subtle by comparison.

But please consider a real-life idiot in fictionalized form. Broadcast on British network Sky1 and produced by The Office's Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, An Idiot Abroad puts a new spin on the travel show format. Our hero is Karl Pilkington. Karl was once merely the producer of Gervais and Merchant's XM radio show, but then he opened his mouth on the air. Somewhat coincidently, Pilkington became an unending fountain of misinformation and bemused ignorance, the perfect foil for the dry wit and cackling emitting from our more familiar duo.

The show follows in the footsteps of various Karl-related endeavors, including a book featuring Gervais's cartoonish drawings of Pilkington buffoonery and radio transcripts called The World of Karl Pilkington. Therefore, An Idiot Abroad is a role reversal that casts Pilkington out into an uncomfortable world (Karl had previously only travelled to Wales on holiday), specifically The Seven Wonders. The show is effective because our protagonist is without malice but completely uninformed. He wonders how China can make an iPod but not have toilet seats. He calls Christ The Redeemer "a pylon." His naiveté provides a warm backdrop for what could be a tired premise.
My favourite active idiot-helmed show is Cartoon Network and Adult Swim's Delocated. Created by comedian Jon Glazer, it's a mock reality show about a guy named "Jon" and his life in the witness relocation program. He wears a ski mask and has a vocal modulator to disguise his true identity, which doesn't matter because the network has concurrently optioned a reality show for the Russian crime family that is trying to kill him.

As dark as this premise may seem, it provides a canvas for absurdly hilarious odd jobs and situations for "Jon" to get into. One episode this season has a prank competition so labyrinthine that it involves ultrasounds, a fake prank show called Jon He Does It and an existential crisis that parodies The Number 23. Delocated is low brow but high concept. The idea of the lovable idiot hinges on a balance of personality and ignorance to justify the idiot's stupidity. These shows all carry that balance to varying degrees of success. V

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