Film & TV

“Will you stop going on about your F**king Dead Wife”: The Decline of Gervais

By Elissa Wilson

Picture Credit: NME

Ricky Gervais, genius though he is, has fallen from his role as a totemic titan of British comedy to a vaguely desperate, sensationalised caricature. Since his detachment from writing partner and collaborator Stephen Merchant, his writing standards have dropped significantly into lowly, overly sentimental repetitive nonsense.

If we cast our minds back to the early 2000s, when The Office initially broke the parameters of British and subsequently American sitcoms, he was rightfully hailed as a genius whose integrity and power over the BBC gave the programme an air of dignity. Gervais was 43 and had the dignity to say he would walk away, unless he could make his project exactly the way that he and Merchant had intended for it to be, rejecting the ideas of bringing in other more established directors and executive producers. This turned out to be the right choice and led to global reverence from his peers and audience alike. Then, in 2006, the duo came together again, with bands of their celebrity fans and created Extras, another hugely successful although tonally radically different sitcom. 

For the most part of this decade, the pair worked together on their radio shows which led to their pretty much single-handed introduction of the podcast format with The Ricky Gervais Show, Life’s Too Short and An Idiot Abroad. But then they separated for some unknown reason, and both embarked upon their careers in isolation with stand up tours, TV shows and ventures into Hollywood. 

Merchant’s projects included the stand up and tv shows of the same name: Hello Ladies, Fighting with my Family and more recently The Outcasts and, in an entirely new career move, Four Lives where he plays the terror inducing serial killer Stephen Port with startling proficiency. Gervais too continued his long standing, monumental stand up with Science, Humanity, and more recently Super Nature. He seemingly kept Karl Pilkington in the divorce as he continued to use him in the first series of Derek.

Then we have the hugely popular but divisive amongst Office fans, After Life. I don’t dislike After Life entirely but I just don’t believe that it’s the ingenious reckoning with grief and nihilism one faces in the wake of a loved one’s death that it thinks it is. One thing that takes me out of the seriousness is the relentless recycling of material from twenty years ago. Each episode is littered with anecdotes originally voiced by Gervais (or more frequently Merchant or Pilkington) in their radio show in the early 2000s. I’m obsessed with these shows so obviously this is more of a personal gripe and wouldn’t hinder the enjoyment of most viewers who see these as fresh witticisms! It just reinforces my original hesitations about the laziness of writing which has begun to appear in the Derek era and reminds me, ironically, of Ben Stiller in Extras demanding that a character “stop going on about your f**king dead wife” . 

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