A Definitive Ranking of Ricky Gervais' TV Shows!
English stand-up comedian, actor, screenwriter, director, and occasional singer Ricky Gervais has been creating and producing shows since the late 90s. You’re probably familiar with some of his most famous works like The Office, Derek, and most recently, After Life.
Gervais has created and produced several other shows, however; everything from a cartoon comedy to an eccentric travel program. In this article, I've undertaken the task of ranking all of Ricky Gervais' television shows from worst to best.
Note that the list includes not just the shows that Gervais stars in, but also the ones that he is responsible for co-producing, writing, and directing as well (i.e. Life’s Too Short and An Idiot Abroad).
7. Life’s Too Short
This half-hour mockumentary based on a fictionalised version of actor Warwick Davis’ life should’ve been hilarious. Getting a look into Davis’ life, whom was born with Spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenital, a rare form of dwarfism, and his struggles with building a career in showbiz seemed like a great premise for at TV show. Paired with creative direction from Gervais and his writing partner, Stephen Merchant, there was a lot of potential, but the show just didn’t end up being all it could’ve been.
The humour relied on typical gags and jokes around Davis’ dwarfism, the storyline revolving around his divorce didn’t have nearly enough comedy or heart, and the show just lacked anything to make it special or worth re-watching. Interestingly enough, this is the last show that Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais worked on together (the show ended in 2013), so maybe they also realised their creative juices had run dry.
Gervais has always been primarily known for doing comedic shows, but Derek was the first television show he created which was more focused on drama than comedy. The show follows the life of the eponymous character, Derek Noakes (played by Gervais), a sweet, but socially-awkward 50-year-old worker at an elderly home.
The show also features the lives of the other staff at the care home, including Kerri Godliman as Hanna and Karl Pilkington as Dougie. There’s a lot of heart in the show; it’s appropriately sombre given its setting in an elderly home, and watching the character of Derek grow throughout the two seasons is bittersweet and beautifully done.
Still, it ranks a bit low on the list as I felt the show lacks impact; again, though not a bad show by any stretch of the imagination, it’s not one that begs for a re-watch, nor are the characters (apart from Derek) really memorable in the scheme of things, especially compared to some of Gervais' other characters.
5. The Office
I know a lot of people reading this will scoff at such a low ranking for The Office. It’s a tough one for me personally; The Office (which ran from 2001-2003) is by no means a bad show, but I never found it as funny as- don’t crucify me- the American version. Being American, I was exposed to the US remake of the show long before I saw the UK version, and perhaps I’m biased due to that, but I always felt that the American version was better than Gervais’ original version of the show.
That being said, I want to defend its ranking at 5th place- the show is still solid, with memorable characters (because where would Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott be without Gervais' David Brent whom inspired it?), and great moments- I just don’t think it stands up to Gervais’ (and Stephen Merchant's) other work.
4. The Ricky Gervais Show
If you’ve never heard Ricky Gervais’ radio show/podcasts, you’re truly missing out. The radio show with Gervais, Merchant and producer, Karl Pilkington, began in 2001, at London radio station, XFM. Though only Merchant and Gervais were originally billed on the show, Pilkington became more and more of a presence, as they realised that he had a “unique” perspective on life. Soon, the show developed into a chat between the three men, mainly focused on Pilkington’s features like “Monkey News” or “Do We Need ‘em?”
Followed by the success of the podcast, HBO developed a cartoon show in 2010, which animates the podcasts and brings the memorable segments to life. The show uses “Hanna-Barbera” style cartoons and recreates classic moments and anecdotes form the podcasts in cartoon form, which only adds to their hilarity. The moments on the show (particularly all the “Monkey News” segments) are laugh-out-loud funny, even after watching and listening to them multiple times.
Extras was really the first show that introduced me to Ricky Gervais, and it was all due to Daniel Radcliffe’s appearance in the second season. Being the massive Harry Potter fan that I am/was, I was keen to see anything that Radcliffe appeared in, so I watched the third episode of season 2 simply to see him. Though I came to Extras for Radcliffe, I stayed for Andy Millman (the main character, played by Gervais) and Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen).
The show (which ran from 2005-2007) is about the life of Andy and his friend, Maggie, and their struggles to make it as background extras, with Andy’s eventual journey to land his own sitcom. Merchant also stars in the show as Andy’s hapless agent. Each episode details Andy’s middling career- filled with mainly lows (like finally making it to the “big time” of having his own sitcom, only to realise that it’s a “shit-com” as his manager helpfully describes it), and the highs (primarily the platonic friendship between Maggie and Andy; if you don’t have a friend that you can call randomly and ask which they would rather have, a bionic arm or a bionic leg, are you really friends at all?).
Personally, Extras is my favourite of Gervais’ shows and one of my favourite TV shows, period. I’ve seen all the episodes many times and still laugh at all the same scenes as if it’s my first time seeing them (my favourite episode is David Bowie’s in season two…”See his pug-nosed face! Pug, pug, pug, pug…little fat man!”). The humour is dry and hilarious, Gervais is spot-on as Andy, Merchant is hysterical as Darren Lamb, and I just love Ashley Jensen in anything. If you haven’t seen Extras, I highly recommend that you do!
2. An Idiot Abroad
What do you get when you take someone who essentially hates travelling and make them host a travel documentary? You get pure hilarity, and “An Idiot Abroad.” The aforementioned “idiot” is Karl Pilkington (Merchant and Gervais’ friend whom they also did the podcasts that became the content for The Ricky Gervais show, above, with) and the show follows him as Merchant and Gervais send him to various locations worldwide and document his experience.
The first season follows Pilkington as he visits locations from Egypt to India, where he’s coerced into participating in things he really has no intention of doing, like travelling through the desert on a camel (“I’m not going on a camel again”), or participating in India’s Holi festival. The biggest part of the gag is that Pilkington vocally protests most of Gervais’ travel itinerary; while most of us could only dream of walking the length of The Great Wall of China, or going on a boat trip through the Amazon River, Pilkington would much rather be at home, sat on his couch, eating a bag of monster munch.
The second series follows Pilkington as he goes on a “bucket list” trip and travels to various dream destinations, from Australia, where he swims with dolphins, to America, where he travels along Route 66. The third series sees Pilkington team up with Warwick Davis (the star of the aforementioned Gervais written and co-produced comedy, Life’s Too Short), as the two of them travel together through India, China, Venice and Macedonia.
Don’t take this show as a real travel documentary; of course, you get to see the sights, but hearing Pilkington whinge about each location won’t really inspire you to travel. The fun of it is watching Pilkington out of his element, seeing what things Gervais and Merchant will force him to do next (usually by calling him mere minutes before sending him out on his next dreaded adventure) and laughing at it all.
1. After Life
I’ll admit that After Life is fresh in my mind as Gervais’ latest release, but I also think it’s his best show to date; a poignant mix of comedy and heartbreak. Gervais stars as the main character, Tony Johnson, whom is depressed and suicidal after the death of his wife. The show follows Tony while he tries to reconcile with this loss, as well as make it through his daily routine: working at the local newspaper with his brother-in-law, Matt (Tom Basden), and visiting his father (played by actor David Bradley), who has dementia and lives in a nursing home.
Tony’s suicidal and depressive thoughts lead him to feel as though life is ultimately meaningless without his wife, and he realises that the only thing that brings him joy is saying and doing whatever he wants to people- he views it as a “superpower” which allows him to punish the world for his loss, leading him to wallow in his bitter sadness from the hand that life has dealt him.
I think the beautiful thing about After Life is that it definitely captures the raw feelings you have after losing a loved one; the pain of grappling with your loss and trying to navigate life without someone you hold dear is the hardest kind imaginable, and Gervais portrays that perfectly throughout the show.
Without giving any spoilers, I will say the show isn’t just a depressing look at life-after-loss; there are lighthearted moments between Tony and his co-workers (Tony Way as Lenny is a pure treat) and it’s absolutely wonderful to see Gervais team up on screen again with Ashley Jensen, who plays Emma, a nurse working at Tony’s father’s nursing home.
The show is beautifully and smartly written, and accurately reflects how painful loss is, and how painful it can be to just move on. Though there’s only been one season to date (though the show has just been renewed for a second season on Netflix), it’s easily Ricky Gervais’ best work.
Which Is Your Favourite Ricky Gervais TV Show?
Do you agree with my ranking? Which show would you place at #1? Let me know in the comments below!
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© 2019 Brittany Brown