For those of us on this side of the Atlantic who first caught Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchants' brilliant original U.K. version of "The Office" on DVD a decade ago, the disks proved a double blessing. We got to own some of the greatest comedy in TV history – and we got to pause the action during some of the most cringe-inducing moments in TV history (the “Training Day” episode alone took us a week to get through).
In the years since, the increasingly on-demand entertainment world has turned binge-watching into literally a spectator sport – thanks, in great part, to the miracle of Netflix. But as the first season of Gervais’ latest TV show, “Derek,” hits the U.S. via the streaming service Thursday, it might be time to consider taking our time.
Netflix, of course, isn't the only source of on-demand entertainment, but it may be the leading force in changing the way we view TV fodder on screens of various sizes. It’s the go-to place to catch up with acclaimed shows that are hard to stop watching – among them, “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “Arrested Development.”
The streaming service helped new fans discover “Arrested Development,” building the demand for more episodes – which it supplied with the revival of the quirky comedy on Netflix in May, seven years after Fox decided there was no more money in the banana stand.
The event marked a watershed in mass marathon viewing – the new season’s “Rashomon” approach invited both binging to put the puzzle together quickly and repeat viewings to catch what we might have missed the first time around. Some of us enjoyed the new episodes, while others were both underwhelmed and overwhelmed. Netflix also scored with two other addictive originals that made some of us prisoners to our televisions: the compelling political thriller “House of Cards” and the jailhouse drama “Orange is the New Black.”
We’re not quite sure what to expect from “Derek,” which marks a departure for Gervais and seems, judging from previews, to move at a slower pace than his past efforts. Gervais plays a kindly oddball who works in a nursing home – a far cry from the clueless arrogance of middle-management buffoon David Brent of “The Office” or the ego-vs.-art-conflicted actor Andy Millman of "Extras." Among Gervais’ “Derek” costars is his comic foil, Karl Pilkington, who is finally playing a character other than his cranky, eccentric self.
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. 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. In the meantime, get a head start on “Derek” by checking out preview below:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.