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Ricky Gervais Defends New Series 'Derek' as 'About Kindness,' While Eli Roth's 'Hemlock Grove' Uses Monsters as Metaphors

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire January 10, 2013 at 11:27AM

While the reunited cast and cretor of "Arrested Development" were the big stars of Netflix's TCA panel this week, the company was also in Pasadena to present two more of its upcoming original series -- Ricky Gervais' "Derek," which Netflix acquired from Channel 4, and "Hemlock Grove," a supernatural thriller/horror drama from Eli Roth and Brian McGreevy.
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Netflix Karl Pilkington and Ricky Gervais in 'Derek'

While the reunited cast and cretor of "Arrested Development" were the big stars of Netflix's TCA panel this week, the company was also in Pasadena to present two more of its upcoming original series -- Ricky Gervais' "Derek," which Netflix acquired from Channel 4, and "Hemlock Grove," a supernatural thriller/horror drama from Eli Roth and Brian McGreevy.

READ MORE: The New Season of 'Arrested Development' Is Going To Be Way More Experimental Than It Was on TV

Gervais showed up to talk about and defend "Derek," a series that's already drawn some negative attention for its depiction of the mentally disabled even before its pilot aired in the U.K. back in April. Gervais plays the title character, a naive, childlike and not terribly bright man who works in a home for the elderly alongside his friend and roommate Dougie (Karl Pilkington, star of Gervais' "An Idiot Abroad"). It's a series that tries to showcase a more sincere side of Gervais, something he addressed at TCA: "I put the pilot out to let people know what it was like because there were so many assumptions out there. 'It was cruel.' I think that follows you around. The risk in my work is being misunderstood. “Derek" -- it’s the first time I remember feeling this excited and proud of a project since the original 'Office.'

Netflix 'Derek'

"As strange and quirky as it might look," Gervais continued, "a group of outsiders working in an old people's home, it’s quite a classic format of sitcom... It’s a show about kindness first and foremost. That’s why they are flawed characters. And it’s a show about forgotten people. I don’t know if it’s the same in America, but in England, we sometimes forget our elderly. We can’t wait to get rid of them, and it’s about that."

Gervais claimed he'd had the character of Derek in his mind for about 10 to 12 years, but didn't know where to place him -- "It just clicked one day that he should be in an old people’s home. About six of my family are carers either for the elderly or Alzheimer's sufferers or people with problems, halfway houses, that sort of thing. And I've always written about what I know.

"I’ve got the swipes at fame and all of those things out of my system, I think, and now it's about the things that really matter." "Derek" does not yet have a U.S. premiere date set.

Netflix 'Hemlock Grove'

"Hemlock Grove" executive producer Eli Roth is still in South America finishing up his latest film "The Green Inferno," but fellow EPs Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy, who wrote the novel on which the series was based, were present to present the drama along with cast members Dougray Scott, Penelope Mitchell, Mark Verheiden, Landon Liboiron, Bill Skarsgård and Famke Janssen. Netflix announced with the panel that "Hemlock Grove" will be premiering on April 19th, with all 13 episodes going live at once in the same release pattern as "Lilyhammer," "House of Cards" and "Arrested Development."

The series, which is set in a decrepit former Pennsylvania steel town that's recently become home to a biotech company, presents reworkings of classic horror characters, from werewolves to mad scientists. But while, as McGreevy put it, "there’s no shortage of monsters on the show," the theme is more "the question [of] what separates a human from a monster." "The conception behind the novel and also the series," he added later, "was that it was going to be a character drama first, and then the genre elements were just going to be a metaphor for these people’s internal states."

READ MORE: Why Do We Enjoy On-Screen Violence? Newtown Casts a Shadow Over TCA

Netflix 'Hemlock Grove'

While "Hemlock Grove" will have its dark moments, Roth wasn't interested in doing "Hostel: The TV Series." Instead, McGreevy said, "the way that he sees the world and that we, the writers, see the world is that emotional violence and physical violence are not actually that unrelated, and we’re very attracted to both." Still, Roth's presence and the areas they wanted to explore on the series meant that the creators never considered a broadcast network when shopping the property around -- they were thinking more of Showtime or HBO. "We all came together shortly after the 'House Of Cards' deal had been announced," said McGreenvy, "and Lee and I looked at each other, 'Okay. That’s the future of the medium.'"

As is the case for "Arrested Development," the Netflix platform has allowed the producers of "Hemlock Grove" to deviate from more conventional TV storytelling. McGreevy explained that "One of the reasons why Netflix was so attractive to us was because we knew that they had this straight through series model. When we were looking at the architecture of the overall season, on one hand, when you're trying to get a pilot sold, you approach story differently than you would when you’re looking at the entire thing as essentially a 13-hour movie adaptation of a novel.

"That being said, the hope is that there are wildly interesting things happening on a regular basis."

This article is related to: Television, TV Features, Netflix, TCA Winter 2013, Hemlock Grove, Brian McGreevy, Ricky Gervais, Derek