Ricky Gervais has done wonders with television. The original incarnation of The Office and Extras stand as two of the most poignant and entertaining programs to come out of TV in the past decade. He's also tried his hand at movies (to a less impressive degree) and awards show hosting (to a less... appreciated degree). Next realm to vie for: the Internet. Gervais is riding the wave of established stars taking their talents to the web with a new series titled Learn English with Ricky Gervais. The show will feature Gervais side by side with his friend and frequent collaborator, Karl Pilkington.
The star and creator released the first trailer for the series (which is advertised to debut on Aug. 14, although no outlet has been named yet) via his Twitter account:
The appeal of a web series is none too mysterious, especially to a name like Gervais, who can draw in viewers on reputation alone. On the web, an artist has unlimited creative freedoms. But an interesting pattern to take note of is that the big name figures straying to the internet don't seem to be veering too far from what they do or have done on TV.
In the case of Learn English, Pilkington seems to be the butt of the joke/source of the comedy — the same can be said for The Ricky Gervais Show and An Idiot Abroad. The latter series features Gervais sending Pilkington to various locations internationally, to derive comedy from the man's "unique" viewpoints about the world and its cultures. In this new show, Gervais will probe Pilkington to deliver English lessons to foreign language speakers (a variety of subtitles will be applied), again at the expense of the latter's oddball nature. More of the same, so it seems. Then why head to the web?
Another recent example is Jerry Seinfeld, who has created Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee for Crackle.com. It's a show about nothing. On the first episode, Seinfeld and Seinfeld/Curb Your Enthusiasm mastermind Larry David drive around, chat about minutia, and make multiple self-directed jabs about Jewish stereotypes. Again, business as usual.
There are others: Lisa Kudrow created Web Therapy about a character who is flighty and off-putting. And the Hulu gang: Kevin Smith developed Spoilers to talk about movies. Larry King birthed Larry King Now to have earnest sit-downs with interesting celebrities and public figures. And Morgan Spurlock gave us A Day in the Life: an inspection of people and worlds for which we don't often get the inside scoop. These are people doing what they do, doing what they love. And likely, doing what people want to see. So, if these giant names can muster the mass appeal to earn viewers doing things everyone knows they're good at, then why exactly have they all stampeded to the Internet as opposed to the venue of television?
Could this simply be a way of connecting more directly to audiences? As it stands, Gervais could either go the way of charging for individual episodes or finding a sponsor and steaming the episodes for free. But Seinfeld, Smith, King, and Spurlock (plus Kudrow before her show got picked up by Showtime) all avail their shows free of charge to internet users. As such, it might be safer to assume that, rather than an act of "breaking free from the man," this is more of a "giving back to the fans" thing. Fans who will seek out Ricky Gervais on the Internet are those who love his work — not just his more widely known his like The Office or his outlandish Golden Globe debacles, but fans of his smaller works: An Idiot Abroad, The Ricky Gervais Show, and Extras (which I seriously cannot stress enough as being one of the most important TV shows since All in the Family). Fans of Jerry Seinfeld will get a kick out of him paling around with collaborators like David and Michael Richards (I'm pretty sure everyone likes him again, right?); Web Therapy is for friends of Phoebe Buffay, Spoilers for View Askew junkies, A Day in the Life for everyone who misses 30 Days and got a kick out of Super Size Me, and Larry King Now for... my nana.
These stars might not be breaking any new ground with their online shows, but it's because they don't need to. Gervais, Seinfeld, Spurlock, King: they're each already pioneers in their respective realms of creativity. Now that they've done their work and changed the world, they can simply slip off the shackles of contracts, networks, and the like, and just offer fans these sincere expressions of appreciation for helping them become what they are.
[Photo Credit: David Edwards/Daily Celeb]