Somewhere around the second episode of “The Office,” just the sight of Ricky Gervais became enough to make me laugh. Watching him sit behind his desk, lean back in his chair and look at the camera (or not) made me deeply happy. Just thinking about it now makes me smile.

His character, an office manager at a paper company, was a buffoon who thrillingly embarrassed himself with his lame boasts and pathetic self-congratulations. Some saw his character as the boss from hell, but he wasn’t that to me. Despite his offensiveness, he always remained lovable, maybe because I felt so sorry for him. All he wanted was to be liked.

And that’s what makes Gervais’ new project so disappointing.

Gervais and Stephen Merchant, his writing partner for “The Office” and “Extras,” have launched a free podcast called “The Ricky Gervais Show” through Britain’s Guardian newspaper: http://www.guardian.co.uk/rickygervais

A podcast is perhaps a curious venue for Gervais, who presumably could have free rein just about anywhere. But Gervais and Merchant got their start on radio, and he told the Guardian that podcasts allows him to “say what I want, when I want, for as long as I want and that’s free for anybody who can be bothered to listen, anywhere in the world.”

Joining the duo is Karl Pilkington, a producer at Gervais’ and Merchant’s old radio show, whom Gervais called, “The funniest man alive.”

“The trouble is, he doesn’t know he’s being funny,” Gervais said.

The show’s format seems to be to put these three in a room, and let Merchant and Gervais tease Pilkington for 30 minutes. Much to the delight of the other two, Pilkington is a little dim. He goes on and on with a half-baked theory involving cavemen and dinosaurs, and Gervais and Merchant gleefully ridicule him for mixing up his prehistoric eras and presuming man and dinosaur ever coexisted.

Pilkington’s lame attempts to convince the other two that vampires and ghosts might exist made me cringe, first because of his dumb stories, and then because of Gervais’ and Merchant’s bitter mockery. It’s an unfair fight, which can never be satisfying.

Gervais’s bullying can be funny — after Pilkington says something impressively wrongheaded about reproduction, Gervais says, “It was the ramblings of someone you’d find sitting by themselves in the hospital eating flies.”

But I felt guilty laughing. Pilkington comes off as an imbecile, but a different kind of imbecile than Gervais’s office manager, David Brent. Pilkington isn’t in on the joke, as Gervais always was.

There could be some profoundly ironic thing going on, where Pilkington is merely playing a dope, and Gervais and Merchant are sending up the ugly traits they exhibit. But if that’s the case, it was too subtle for me.

Gervais ridiculed bullies and braggarts in “The Office” as effectively as he did cubicle drones. His attempts to tease other people were as ridiculous as his inane speeches to boost office morale. But here, the whole point of the show seems to be tease this poor guy Pilkington. I couldn’t help but wish for him to deliver a stinging comeback to his tormentors, but it was a naive hope. You don’t enter into a battle of wits with Ricky Gervais.

There are some bright spots in the show: Gervais’s British pronunciation of “glacier,” as “glass-ee-ur,” for example. But even that gem is embedded within a line calling Pilkington so clueless it’s as if he’d been frozen for eons inside a “glass-ee-ur.”

Gervais is undoubtedly a genius, but the thought of him smirking inside a soundbooth isn’t nearly as appealing as picturing him leaning back in that office chair.



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To hear the episodes, click here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/rickygervais

New episodes will be posted every Monday.



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