Ricky Gervais, a man who recently saw three of his television shows – Life’s Too Short, An Idiot Abroad, and The Ricky Gervais Show – end their US runs, will be airing his latest UK series, Derek, on Netflix in the US some time next year. Derek aired its pilot episode in the UK in April and Gervais is currently in the process of writing the rest of the six episode series.
The pilot, as well as the advertising campaign for the show, have attracted a fair amount of controversy. Gervais plays the lead role, Derek, a character whom he describes as “a tender, innocent man,” but who many say is really a nasty caricature of someone with a mental disability, most likely a mild case of Down’s Syndrome. That premise, combined with the generally cruel nature of Gervais’s comedy and such incidents as Gervais’s past use of the term “mong,” (short for “mongoloid”) an offensive epithet for a mentally challenged person in the UK, on twitter, led many to conclude that Gervais was going to be exploring a new level of offensiveness and cruelty with this series.
When the pilot episode aired in the UK in April the reviews were mixed, but critics were generally of the opinion that the show was more sympathetic and less cruel than they expected. Gervais was praised for deviating from the formula of his past shows to some extent by not playing a smarmy narcissist. However, some conventions of his past efforts remain, such as the mockumentary format and the presence of Karl Pilkington, once again basically playing himself.
As most entertainment news bloggers have pointed out, Gervais will to some extent be sidestepping these controversies by going straight to Netflix as opposed to HBO, where all his previous shows have aired in the US. As is customary, in a statement Gervais praised Netflix as the paradigm-shifting TV platform of the future etc. etc. saying:
Netflix is the future. TV habits have already changed drastically over the last 10 years and this is the next phase. People want their favorite shows on demand whether they are homegrown or not.” As an artist you want the fruits of your labor to be seen by the largest number of people possible without having to compromise the product. This deal gave me the freedom and the huge potential viewers of the Internet but the production values of film and TV.
See a few of the UK promos for Derek below, which should give you some idea of why so many people thought the show was going to be offensive:
Netflix Picks up new Ricky Gervais Series ‘Derek’ [New York Times]