This preview was originally published in 2014
I’m a huge Ricky Gervais fan. So I’m always excited when there’s news of an upcoming Gervais project. But the news of Gervais’ latest project has filled me with excitement, and diarrhoea. First, I’ll take you back to 2003:
That’s the end of The Office … [my] sort of legacy … So many people in the past have let me down, I think so many of my favourite comedy sitcoms/writers and actors have gone just one step too far. The quality goes down, you suddenly think, I don’t want to see this again, its repetitive or just poor! They have taken the money and run and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want people to say or think that of me.
Gervais talking there. Therefore, the news that Gervais is making a film of The Office, to be called Life on the Road, seems to be proof that he’s getting desperate and really has jumped the shark (Life’s Too Short, anyone?). This movie actually scares me. Is he going to ruin the perfect legacy of The Office? Has he “taken the money and run”?
Gervais is, all due disrespect to the haters, a genius. Fact. The Office alone proves it. Magnificently written and brilliantly acted, Gervais’ performance as David Brent was flawless: every word, every look, every facial twitch was spot on and every bit the equal of, say, Cleese in Fawlty Towers.
But he’s also lazy. And his recent projects have all been characterised by laziness. Life’s Too Short is a cheap Extras rip off, with Warren Davis doing a pathetic and embarrassing impersonation of David Brent; I can hardly bare to watch it, even alone, eyes closed, drunk. And I love Gervais’ collaborations with Karl Pilkington – The Ricky Gervais Show and An Idiot Abroad – but they are, nonetheless, quite lazy too. The formula: Gervais and Steve Merchant chat and take the piss out of Pilkington. Even Gervais’ stand up, funny as it is, has a certain sloppiness to it: think the “Chris Tarrant” anecdote which was the supposed grand finale to Fame. And let’s not mention his lame attempts at being an interviewer: he was too egotistical to act as foil to his guests. Which brings me on to the next point.
The one project since Extras which wasn’t lazy, Derek, was self-indulgent. Set within an old people’s home, that show could’ve gone down as one of the most socially relevant, beautiful, brilliant, and important sitcoms ever. But the incredible miscasting of Gervais in the title role, as a mentally handicapped man, single-handedly ruined the show. Gervais just isn’t a good actor. That’s not a criticism, but trite fact. He’s a brilliant writer, stand up, and comic mind. But he hasn’t got the acting chops to portray such a character. And who cast Gervais in that role? Answer: Gervais. What self-indulgence! And self-indulgence and egotism have often attached themselves to Gervais’ projects. If only Ricky Gervais could have gotten over himself.
Therefore, whilst Gervais really is one of my idols (I rank him up there with Sellars, Cleese, Ben Elton, Ianucci, and Linehan and Matthews), I am worried. He can be lazy, he can be self-indulgent. The Office ended so beautifully, so perfectly, the character arcs were so neatly concluded, that an Office movie seems to be asking to fail. It’s like when Only Fools and Horses carried on after Delboy became a millionaire: the character’s journey was already satisfyingly and naturally finished. Continuing it was a bad idea from the get go: and, yes, post-millionaire Only Fools turned out to be an embarrassing, legacy-ruining, let-down.
So Ricky Gervais really is dicing with artistic danger here. There’s no need to bring back The Office. But he is. So he needs to drop his egotism, stop being lazy, and hopefully, he won’t ruin his own legacy. And touch wood, Steve Merchant, who seems to be a marginally moderating influence on Gervais, will be in tow. The only way to do this film is to make something flawless. “Never go back”, they say, “you’re bound to fail”. It’s a law of the universe. I hope The Office movie is the exception to that proven rule.
Watch this space.
Derek image from http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02191/derek_2191238b.jpg
© 2014, 2021 Bryan A. J. Parry