Karl Pilkington stars opposite himself in his recent sitcom Sick of It, a series in six parts, each a nugget-sized twenty minutes.
In his kitchen sink comedy, Sick of It, Pilkington stars as the two protagonists: Karl the cabby, a fictional manifestation of himself, and the negative, questioning Karl who exists in his head. Portraying two parts of the same character, especially parts that have constant dialogue and interaction with each other, sounds like a recipe for disaster and is a sure step away from the naturalism that defines Pilkington’s most recent projects. However, his performances are down to earth enough for the two selves to avoid becoming surreal. The relationship between the two parts of himself - although initially somewhat relatable - become a series of tedious complaints in the final episode when we spend a gruelling twenty minutes watching him complaining intermittently about his bowel issues.
The idea behind the series does have potential: exploring the thoughts behind motivation and reaction works as gems such as Peep Show and Scrubs show, but these shows have a wit and intellect that Sick of It lacks. Pilkington bombards us instead with two complaining versions of the same character (and too much of Pilkington’s negativity really does get you down). The script is repetitive and slow moving, with little development of character as it becomes clear Karl has no desire to change. Scenes that are clearly meant to be humorous miss the trick; when Karl yells at two women holding crying babies to “Shut the fuck up” it is clear the script lacks any sort of subtlety.
Sick of It’s soundtrack is the saving grace of the show, lifting the sitcom out of the gloom and giving it more energy and life; tracks from Billie Holiday and Brigitte Bardot really spice up the six episode run and the songs often satisfyingly mirror the events or emotions of the scene. For me the best moment of the show was the scene in episode one. We see Karl’s despair as he watches his sofa go up in flames, a scene which is then intercut with scenes from his uncle’s cremation, all whilst Eddie Jones’ ‘Let’s Stop Fooling Ourselves’ plays in the background.
Sick of it is not escapism TV, it is not a calm retreat from the hectic mess of your day but an exploration of the mess of someone else’s. TV doesn’t have to be profound or radically different from normal life, and representing loneliness and depression is hugely important, but Pilkington’s character is so unappealing that it is hard to sympathise with or understand him. The show indulges Pilkington’s own complaints about life without providing much insight into why he feels as he does and without suggesting there is any hope of change.
Perhaps we should seek to all engage and reason with the voice inside our heads. Unlike Karl we may get to know ourselves better along the way.