The Compleat History of the Man Who Briefly Shocked the Hollywood Elite
Depending on which Monday-morning entertainment quarterback you asked, Ricky Gervais’s job as host of the 77th Golden Globe Awards Sunday night was either a nothing-new, disingenuous string of overly cynical jokes, a bore, or a much-needed takedown of the Hollywood elite. (Guess before you click which of those links leads to Fox News.)
Gervais probably cares what reaction he got even if his attitude on state during the telecast was to feign complete indifference as he promised his fifth turn as host would be the last. “I don’t care anymore. I’m joking, I never did,” he said during the opening monologue.
Lost among the critiques of Gervais and his snide real talk, though, was the question of whether it’s even worth knowing who this guy is. We’re nearly 20 years on from the debut of the original, U.K. version of The Office, the brilliant mockumentary of corporate drudgery that put Gervais and his co-creator Stephen Merchant on the map and set the tone for many sitcoms to come.
What’s he done since then? Let’s take a look at the timeline:
The Office U.K. (2001-2003) It’s hard to overstate the importance to TV comedy that this short-run series had. Even if you never watched it, you probably watched a show that was directly influenced by its deadpan desperation and subtle camera work. (Sure, the U.S. Office, but also everything from Brooklyn Nine-Nine to Modern Family to What We Do in the Shadows.
Extras (2005-2007) Not quite the classic that Office was, it still had plenty to say about celebrity culture and was a poignant look at behind-the-scenes life. But it wasn’t Gervais who made it memorable on camera; Ashley Jensen gave a beautiful performance as a not-all-there performer who is consistently made aware of her limitations by everyone around her.
Ghost Town (2008) One of Gervais’s few gigs where he acted in a project he didn’t write or direct. No one remembers this David Koepp joint and it was the first indication that Gervais was not going to go the leading-man-in-movies route. (2008)
The Invention of Lying (2009) A high-concept romantic comedy about an alternate reality where lying doesn’t exist (until the Gervais character invents it) that was shrugged at by critics and ignored by audiences. More proof that Gervais’s skills weren’t translating to the big screen.
Cemetery Junction (2010) Gervais and Merchant reunited for this period piece set in the 1970s that got middling reviews. That made for three strikes for Gervais at the box office.
The Ricky Gervais Show (2010-2013) While he was working on all these TV and movie projects, Gervais was also helping start the podcast movement with a mock-interview show largely built on making fun of silly straight man/co-host Karl Pilkington. The TV version, on HBO, was an animated series taking clips from the podcast. It was surprisingly good.
Talking Funny (2011) This HBO special, a sit-down meeting-of-the-minds featuring Louis CK, Gervais, Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld has aged horrifically, not just because of CK’s dick moves, but due to an unfortunate discussion of the N-word that keeps resurfacing. Yikes!
Life’s Too Short (2011-2013) This TV show was about Warwick Davis, the small-stature actor, getting shit on by Hollywood. It was… fine? Definitely not as good as “Office” or “Extras,” but it had a few funny moments. It only lasted one season, plus a one-hour finale two years later.
Derek (2013-2015) Oof. Some critics found this maudlin, supposedly life-affirming show in which Gervais plays a developmentally disabled man working at a nursing home to be empathetic, but given everything we know about Gervais, it could easily come across as his most cynical act yet. I found it so cringey I couldn’t make it through the first of two seasons (plus a wrap-up special).
Muppets Most Wanted (2014) Now we’re talking! Gervais was by this point obnoxiously hosting the Globes, putting out so-so comedy specials, and dragging religion on Twitter constantly. He had made such a cartoon of himself that it seemed fitting he should play a cartoonish bad guy in a Muppet movie with a name like (wait for it…) Dominic Badguy. Fun and funny.
Special Correspondents (2016) Around the time Netflix started flooding the market with movies and TV show no one had time to keep up with, this movie about small-time journalists faking an international incident. Reviews were terrible and it didn’t make much a ripple. Never saw it.
David Brent: Life on the Road (2016) Gervais revived his David Brent character from “The Office” multiple times over the years, most blatantly in this road show about Brent trying to make a career in music on the back of his (fictional) docuseries fame. The most telling thing about this whole project is that “Office” co-creator Stephen Merchant had no involvement in it.
After Life (2019) Mentioned in the Globes monologue was this Netflix series about a man who grieves the loss of his wife by turning into a truth-telling asshole (much like Gervais himself). A second season is on the way this year, and reviews have been decent, but this is a show that didn’t end up on anybody’s best-of-the-year lists for 2019 and that hasn’t stood out from the crowded peak TV crowd.