Often when Ricky Gervais’ best friend, Karl Pilkington, calls, the conversation immediately begins with a random and innocuous question.
“What’s the difference between the mind and the brain?” Pilkington asked Gervais recently.
Initially, the out-of-left-field query makes Gervais laugh. But after answering Pilkington, the chat leads to more questions. Twenty minutes later, Gervais is rubbing his forehead.
“He gives me a headache,” deadpans Gervais, though the two are working together — in animated form — on another season of “The Ricky Gervais Show” (9 p.m. EDT Friday, HBO).
Nonetheless, Gervais is fascinated by nebbish Pilkington and how his childlike mind works. It’s the basis for a wildly popular podcast featuring Gervais, Pilkington and Gervais comedy partner Stephen Merchant.
At last count, the podcast had been downloaded 340 million times.
The podcast also has been translated into a weekly series called “The Ricky Gervais Show,” a half-hour animated comedy featuring their Web conversations, illustrated Hanna-Barbera style (“The Flintstones,” “The Jetsons”), now starting its third season.
Each episode kicks off with the cartoon versions of Gervais, Merchant and Pilkington in the studio and then veering off into Pilkington’s flights of fancy. In the opener, Pilkington reveals the details of a movie he wants to make — involving a dead Tom Cruise, “Mission: Impossible 8,” a body transplant and Ted Danson.
In another segment, Pilkington explains his newest invention idea: neckties with pockets.
As much aggravation as Pilkington may bring to Gervais, there’s no denying — as Gervais sees it — “That (Pilkington) got life right. He’s like a child who points at someone they see for the first time in a supermarket. He’s naive. It’s all in how you deal with that.
“Do you drag that child away and make it taboo, or do you answer his question and delve into why he asked it and listen to him explain himself? There’s no malice with Karl at all.
“He’s just curious.”
Pilkington has certainly found his own celebrity. Besides “The Ricky Gervais Show,” he also appears on a travelogue series for the Science Channel called “The Idiot Abroad.” He’ll co-star on Gervais’s next scripted comedy, “Derek,” about the life of health-care employees working with the elderly.
The two first met on a British radio show 10 years ago.
“I’ve learned a lot about Karl. I’ve learned a lot from Karl,” Gervais says. “He still surprises me every day.”
Other highlights for the week of April 15-21 (listings subject to change; check local listings):
“Autism: The Musical” (11 a.m., OWN). This documentary profiles five autistic children’s efforts to write, rehearse and perform in their own musical.
“Titanic at 100: Mystery Solved” (8 p.m., History). A team of experts answers how the so-called unsinkable ship managed to go down. Hitting an iceberg seemed like a strong enough reason, but I’m no expert.
“Titanic” (9 p.m., ABC). The second part of this two-part miniseries (it began April 14) airs.
“NYC 22” (10 p.m., CBS). Shot on location in New York, this new crime drama focuses on six rookie cops who go through the paces of working Manhattan’s 22nd Precinct.
“Eureka” (9 p.m., Syfy). As the final season launches, residents learn they’ve leaped four years into the future and deal with the consequences.
“Richard Hammond’s Crash Course” (10 p.m., BBC America). The host of “Top Gear” takes on America’s largest and most dangerous vehicles in this new series.
“The Woman Who Wasn’t There” (8 p.m., Investigation Discovery). This special recounts the life of a woman who escaped the 78th floor of the South Tower at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Fact or Fiction: The Paranormal Files” (9 p.m., Syfy). A couple of UFO sightings and a Big Foot alert in Kentucky make up the start of the second season.
“Kathy” (10 p.m., Bravo). Comic Kathy Griffin is host of her own talk show, tackling hot pop-culture issues of the week.
“Melissa & Tye” (9:30 p.m., CMT). The former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and “Dancing with the Stars” contestant ventures out to Los Angeles and manages a long-distance relationship.
“Alien Tornado” (9 p.m., Syfy). Outer-space aliens use “electrical tornadoes” as weapons against us puny humans in this movie. Jeff Fahey (“Machete”) and Kari Wuhrer (“Sliders”) star.
“Paul F. Tompkins: Laboring Under Delusions” (11 p.m., Comedy Central). The comic’s standup special touches on his pre-performer days, like when he was a disgruntled hat salesman and a sticky-fingered video-store clerk.