“The death thing’s good.”
At the beginning of Saturday’s episode of An Idiot Abroad, Karl mutters this in reference to the difference between Egypt’s famed pyramids and Mexico’s Chichen Itza; a structure that, while similar to pyramids, according to Karl at least has to do with death. For once, Karl’s bizarre outlook sets a different tone for the whole trip. And the impossible happens. Karl seems to, for once, try to enjoy a trip. Perhaps it’s that Karl didn’t find Mexico as much of a culture shock as China or India. Or maybe it’s that everyone he meets seems to have no problem with their English. Whatever the reason, this is the first time I’ve ever seen or heard of Karl having an “allright” time anywhere other than his apartment. Karl actually seems to feel at home in Mexico.
During every other episode of this show, Karl looks uneasy, awkward and agonized the entire time. In Mexico, Karl appears relaxed and ready with a story, however inappropriate, told to relate to his companions. Within minutes of stepping off the plane, Karl meets a taxi driver who has his small Chihuahua in the car with him. Immediately, seeing some common ground, Karl launches into a story about how his mom’s friend had her own Chihuahua that was taken away by a seagull. Throughout the whole episode Karl seems engaged in what’s going on around him, although in typical Karl fashion, his commentary seems to be more of a zig zag than a straight line of reason. While witnessing a reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday, Karl wonders how one would know what kind of nail to use, as he can never seem to work it out for any of his at-home projects. While learning how to wrestle, Karl mentions that when this episode airs, he and his girlfriend Suzanne will go out to eat, so she doesn’t have to see him. And when visiting a local cemetery, Karl is reminded of an outdoor grill that his dad made for their backyard.
At an alternative Easter celebration, Karl’s enthusiasm for Mexican culture is proved by his inexplicable willingness to stay in a somewhat dangerous situation. He and his guide seem to form a bond that makes Karl more comfortable than ever before, despite explosions, gunpowder and the lack of support by his “medical and safety” producer. After meeting a man with one eye in charge of fireworks, Karl correctly suggests that maybe the government would be more supportive if they made an effort and got a man with two eyes. At the celebration, people blow up paper mache items that they believe represent Judas. Karl does not remember this from the bible. Later in the episode, Karl once again proves his love of Mexico by agreeing to knock down a wasps’ nest and eat the larva with some descendants of the Mayans. And he barely complains! Very un-Pilkington. He even goes so far to share his pickled onion chips with the family he eats with. You feel that, like a child sharing his toys, he’s really truly trying to make a connection.
The only time that Karl looks like his old uncomfortable self is during a cowboy lesson. But it’s still clear that he’s trying to understand the whys of Mexican culture in a way that he’s never tried to figure out for anywhere else. He seems genuinely concerned by the customs and tries to convince those he meets that eating worms from tequila bottles and riding bulls is unnecessary. He does refuse to ride a bull, and after seeing him on a horse, you don’t blame him.
Of course, the point of An Idiot Abroad is to go see the seven wonders of the world, and this is where Karl once again loses interest in travel. Instead of marveling at the Chichen Itza, the last remaining relic of the ancient Mayan civilization, Karl focuses on a call from Suzanne about how to work the DVD player, feeds a lizard and switches off his audio guide and dances around to Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough.” But he’s finally happy. At least until next week when he goes to Egypt.
Joey Slamon lives in Los Angeles where she watches lots of television and produces this show.