Ricky Gervais must have known he was sitting on a turkey with Life’s Too Short. His mockumentary about celebrity short person Warwick Davis pulled on too many of his old tricks, and it turned out that playing a grotesque version of yourself and drafting in your celebrity mates again just wasn’t funny enough.
If Gervais playing himself as an obnoxious douche was intended as self-satire, his real-life antics have sailed too close to the wind recently. It wasn’t uncomfortably funny, it was just uncomfortable.
So now he’s back sooner than you might have thought. Debuted at a BFI screening last week and airing on Channel 4 next Thursday, his new pilot Derek finds Gervais in a mockumentary setting playing a man with apparent learning difficulties. Another tired example of Gervais laughing at people for being different?
Well, perhaps not. He’s spoken at length about how Derek is a show with more heart, and having wrung the showbiz thing dry, this is instead the story of a man who works in an old people’s home, who loves Rolf Harris, Jesus, autograph hunting and The Secret Millionaire and is unerringly kind and gentle. Gervais wants, he says, to focus on people on the fringes of society. He’s tested the character on his stand-up tours, and keeping things once again in the family, Karl ‘An Idiot Abroad’ Pilkington gets his first acting role as Derek’s boss Dougie.
Channel 4 have yet to commit to a series but Gervais says he’s already writing one. And tellingly, cameos from Emma Bunton and Dermot O’Leary were cut out of the pilot as he seems to have worked out how tiring those have become.
For now, five teaser clips have been released. So based on these, could Derek be enough to get the Gervais machine back on track?
Derek with kind-hearted female lead Hannah, played by Kerry Godliman. Probably not a Tim and Dawn situation brewing here.
Derek’s ‘gang’ hang out in the retirement home, obsessing about collecting autographs. His other mate has 35,000.
“Everyone wants to be on the telly.” And everyone in a Ricky Gervais sitcom is on a fly-on-the-wall documentary, whether they want to be or not.
Karl Pilkington as Dougie details the rich fabric of his life.
Finally, role reversal time, as Pilkington plays the exasperated straight man and Gervais plays up his mate’s ‘Idiot Abroad’ routine.
Do you think it'll be any good?