When you consider that his television career is only 12 years old, Ricky Gervais is incredibly prolific. Now the comedian is set to begin work on a spanking new television series. And the premise? Atheism!! No surprise there—if there’s one thing Ricky Gervais can’t get enough of, it’s telling people he’s an atheist.
Titled Afterlife, the new series will follow an atheist who dies and goes to heaven. Maybe it’ll be kind of like a bleak Touched by an Angel for the Richard Dawkins set, with Stephen Merchant playing Roma Downey (I wish!). But here’s the really exciting part: Gervais is collaborating on the show with writer and former executive producer of Dexter, Clyde Phillips. They’re writing the pilot right now. Like, they might literally be sitting at a desk together right now.
Ricky Gervais can be insufferable—in fact, I’d call his schtick “affably irritating”—but it helps that he’s witty. And if there’s one thing Gervais likes to talk about besides atheism, it’s his old TV show The Office (UK).
HuffPo published a column by Gervais yesterday, nearly in time for The Office‘s 10th birthday, titled “Why David Brent Is a Good Guy”. It’s a wistful tribute to Wernham Hogg’s cast of awkward weirdos, each character a composite of people Gervais met during his own eight years in an office:
My English teacher told me, “Always write about what you know.” Possibly the best advice I’ve ever had. Or at least the best advice I’ve ever taken.
Gervais has deeply considered the motivations for each of his characters, but he understands none better than The Office‘s lead dope, the blithely hapless David Brent:
David Brent doesn’t represent evil, or nastiness or even ignorance. He’s just a little out of place. Out of time. His worst crime is that he confused respect with popularity. He wanted both but concentrated on the wrong one. He didn’t really know what people wanted of him. He shouldn’t really have worried about that at all. He just tried a little too hard. He wasn’t a bad man. In fact he was quite a nice man and I have a real affection for him.
I like all my characters I play or create, to be honest. I don’t think you should ever feel above the role or sneery towards them. Comedy is above all about empathy in my opinion and I think as an actor, the more you empathize with a character, the more engaging he will be to an audience.
According to The Sun, The Office was initially panned by critics, with its first season having the “lowest BBC focus group score ever.” (It’s worth noting that the well-loved U.S. remake experienced a similar trajectory of success.)
The Office has also been remade in Germany, France, Chile, Israel, and Quebec.