“Netflix has 30 million subscribers now. They are one little company in L.A. and they are as big as the BBC.”
So said the brilliant Ricky Gervais to The Mirror‘s Mark Jefferies in January. This was before his latest series, “Derek,” debuted across the big piece of water currently separating continents. He said it because people became upset at his program, claiming that it was exploitative to those who have special needs (the title character plays a disabled worker in a nursing home). Airing on Channel 4 over there (reason No. 349 why the Brits are much smarter than Americans: Just give a channel a number and shut up already. No more FXXXXXXX or ESPN Deutschland), the writer was asked if he was worried that the network might pull the plug after the controversy surrounding his show. The top passage was part of his response.
And why do we bring this up? Because finally, after months and months and months and months of anticipation (or, well, anticipation from me, at least) welcome to Derek Day, Sept. 12, 2013, for today is the day that the show will be released to the Neflix hounds all seven episodes at once, following in the same large footsteps as “House of Cards,” Orange Is The New Black” and “Arrested Development.”
I have high hopes for this. I’ve been reading about it forever, it seems, and after seeing how excellent the three aforementioned series turned out on Big Red, this particular show will (un)officially round out the first wave of original content from Netflix. From what I understand, the show’s first priority isn’t comedy; rather, it’s a vehicle for Gervais to express his candor and poignancy, more or less a series of sad tales enjoying only shades of humor. And it’s not like he can’t do that, remember (you don’t land a role in a Muppets movie if you can’t successfully play nice, duh). The dude’s got a lot of stuff to say, and despite a swelling of people who’ve been fed up with him as of late (you cynical hipsters, you), he often hits far more than he misses.
Better yet (for a blog such as this, at least) is Gervais’ constant praise for his brothers and sisters in the Netflix library. Maybe one of the first high-profile people who jumped on the “House of Cards” ship, he constantly took to Twitter to express his love when the political drama was initially unleashed. Over. And over. And over. Now, word has it that he was the one to first seek out Netflix, looking for a spot in its rotation.
“I was immediately interested in anything he wanted to do because I think everything he’s ever done has been phenomenal,” chief content officer Ted Sarandos told The Hollywood Reporter’s Hilary Lewis last week. “The reach out I thought was really validating too because Ricky has always been at the cutting edge of all different things. He’s so media-savvy and tech-savvy. … I was really quite flattered that he thought of us as the next big thing because he’s been right about that a lot.”
But is he right about this particular project? What say you, Diane Werts at Newsday?
“Gervais has nailed it here,” she wrote, “despite online scoffers fearing his depiction of Derek mocks the mentally challenged. That’s how far society has gone? A guy who’s just plain nice, patient, lost and socially maladroit is prima facie ‘disabled’? With its own take on awkward pauses, misapprehensions and failed humor, ‘Derek’ is actually just Gervais’ latest angle on square pegs in a round-hole world.”
“Unexpectedly poignant and only sporadically funny, Ricky Gervais’ latest series, ‘Derek,’ is a rare solo effort for the comic, making its U.S. debut via Netflix after his lengthy affiliation with HBO,” he wrote. “Although it takes awhile to grow accustomed to Gervais’ character — a seemingly autistic man working in a struggling convalescent home — the show is filled with a beguiling sense of melancholy, and a knockout performance by Kerry Godliman as the facility’s caring administrator. Given Gervais’ long association with HBO (which will carry his collaborator Stephen Merchant’s upcoming series), the pay service should think of ‘Derek’ as one that got away.”
OK, OK. To be fair, The New York Times‘ Mike Hale had to ruin the party however slightly …
“Why Mr. Gervais, so refreshingly nasty in the original ‘Office,’ felt the need to make this potty-mouthed Hallmark card of a show is anyone’s guess,” he wrote. “He’s already proved he can act, particularly in the film ‘Ghost Town’; in ‘Derek,’ his performance is meticulous but uninvolving and eventually tiring. If his goal was to show that he could do sentimental whimsy as well as Nora Ephron or James Corden (‘Gavin & Stacey’), he hasn’t succeeded.”
Well, boo to you, too.
As for me, I’m ready to dive in this evening (interrupting my trek through season two of “The Good Wife,” which brings sadness to my soul). High expectations can oftentimes be unnerving when it comes to any piece of entertainment (and how are you, Jay-Z?), so I know I’m not doing the show any favors by hoping it’s the single greatest thing since black licorice. That said, maybe the most interesting aspect of this all is something Jere Hester wrote Wednesday …
“Unlike ‘Arrested Development,’ which premiered on Memorial Day weekend, ‘Derek’ arrives amid a very busy beginning of the fall season when our attention is stretched across the network and cable spectrum, perhaps making binge-watching less appealing,” Hester wrote. “The show premiered in the U.K. last year to mixed reviews — some critics accused Gervais of mocking vulnerable people, a charge he denied. The debate is likely to reignite as ‘Derek’ debuts on Netflix Thursday. Take your time to form an opinion, and savor what’s shaping up as a bittersweet turn by Gervais.”
And suddenly the lights dim and some dude looking like Walter White walks in. Of the four notable original ventures (sorry, “Hemlock Grove”) Netflix has offered, “House of Cards” was over-the-top in its promotion, “Orange Is The New Black” was the cool, hip, “what is this” buzzy thing that people flocked to and “Arrested Development” was … well … “Arrested Development.” This time, all people have to cling to is Ricky Gervais, already the most polarizing figure this side of Pitchfork. The first series has been out in more than one country for months now, so anybody who really wanted to check it out, I’m going to guess, has already found a way to see what all the fuss is about. The battle for “Derek,” at least more so than its predecessors, might just end up being significantly uphill, considering time, place and expectation.
Still, who knows what this venture may lead to for both Big Red and
David Brent, er, Rickey Gervais. There have already been talks about a potential stand-up special, but who knows for sure if both parties will ever find the time. Gervais insists that he loves this new model for television consumption and as far as future opportunities go, it would be surprising if this turned out to be a one-and-done situation (there are also rumblings that the comedian is developing something with YouTube). Plus, even if “Derek” fails here, a series two is already scheduled for production sooner rather than later, and regardless of how many people shrug their shoulders stateside, there’s always going to be a BBC and there’s always going to be a Channel 4.
For now, though, how about we sit back, take it all in, and acquaint ourselves with Mr. Noakes. It’s Derek Day, after all. Kindness, I hear, is magic.