Ricky Gervais was once a comedy demigod or “half-god”. At one time, the mastermind behind the original U.K. version of The Office (or half-mastermind–along with Stephen Merchant) could do no wrong. (The U.S. version of The Office has made me laugh a total of zero times.) Gervais then made the leap to full-fledged Hollywood celebrity. What followed was the mediocrity of Ghost Town, The Invention of Lying, and two of those crap Night at the Museum movies. Ricky Gervais fell into the role of celebrity instead of taking chances with his comedy chops. (Yeah, a multi-millionaire slagging off actors as host of the Golden Globes is really edgy.)
Not to say we don’t like Ricky Gervais; we just want to see him back to his old form. Gervais’ last series was called Life’s Too Short. It was about a celebrity dwarf who fell down a lot. Enter Derek: Gervais’ latest British TV project. Derek is a comedy series about a man with learning difficulties who works in an old people’s home. (Are you laughing yet?) The show co-stars Ricky’s pal Karl Pilkington as Derek’s colleague Dougie.
Gervais has set off a firestorm in the U.K. with his latest offering. (Guardian: “Ricky Gervais, there is no justification for this lazy cruelty.”) Fans have praised Gervais for being brave by taking on a mentally handicapped character. British comedian Stewart Lee said of Gervais’s bravery: It would be braver for him to staple his penis to a wolf. And braver still for him to run into a threshing machine, pushing children in wheelchairs in before him. But watching Gervais’s Derek Noakes on YouTube, I imagined feral children trailing real Dereks around supermarkets, chanting “Derek Derek”, as they doubtless would were the series to be made, and wondered if, sometimes, discretion is not the better part of valour.
Offensive or edgy? Watch and decide. In the meantime: a series of YouTube teasers for the TV series Derek: