The mind of Karl Pilkington is a funny and fascinating place, and Sick of It offers two perspectives on his bald Manc world.
In Sick of It, Karl Pilkington plays Karl Pilkington and Karl Pilkington. It’s often difficult to tell who’s who.
You might remember Karl as the droning round-headed plaything of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. He was the producer on their XFM radio show, and swiftly became part of their podcast, which was later animated for HBO. His pearls of gnomic Mancunian wisdom became legendary, so much so that they made their way into published books – penned by his own, imbecilic hand – and two travelogue shows: Idiot Abroad, in which he mostly remained the tortured comedic experiment of Gervais and Merchant, and The Moaning of Life, in which he grappled with his own middle-aged existence.
Alongside Richard Yee, who also directs, Karl co-wrote Sick of It, which is unlike everything he has done before except in that it retains the crucial authenticity of his Manc whinge. And it’s all the better for it. He plays a London cab driver living with his aunt (Norma, rather than the real-life Aunty Nora, and here played by Sondra James) while getting over a bad breakup. But he also plays another version of himself, just in a worse mood. That’s where the show’s comedy comes from, but also its most astute observations about how trying life can be when you see it slightly differently than other people do.
It’s a brilliant concept, and perfectly suited to Karl’s wearied wisdom. And what’s more is that Karl himself proves not only a great writer, but a considerably engaging performer. That he’s reading from his own stream of consciousness no doubt helps, but there are layers and nuances here that you wouldn’t necessarily expect, and the first two episodes are cleverly plotted to wring maximal frustration out of relatively mundane circumstances. (In the first episode Karl’s trying to get rid of a sofa; in the second a screaming fake baby.)
But the secret weapon of Sick of It is an incredibly earnest centre; a melancholic emotional heart that tinges the laughs with a kind of sadness, or at least a sobering reality. That sofa he’s getting rid of represents the last ten years of his failed relationship, and he’s missing his uncle’s funeral to dispose of it. And that plastic baby is likely the closest he’ll come to a real one, and a scene in which he strokes its head and winds it while waiting for the results of his own sperm count test is quietly tragic.
I expected to like Sick of It, as I believe Karl is a natural comedic genius, but I didn’t expect to be moved and engaged by it quite this much. Yet, here we are. Who’d ever have thought that the head like a fucking orange could be so full of profundity, compassion and wisdom? I can’t wait to see what else he’s sick of.