Brash Gervais turns sweeter in new comedy

Ricky Gervais' new TV comedy follows a man who works in a retirement home.

Cast member Ricky Gervais laughs during the panel for the HBO television series "Life's Too Short" at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, California January 13, 2012.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni(UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT) *** Local Caption ***  MA608_TCA-_0113_11.JPG

Gervais stars in Derek, a comedy he wrote about a man who works in a retirement home filled with many characters in their 80s and 90s.

The creator of The Office said the new programme featured flawed characters like the ones that were hallmarks of his earlier works but was "sweeter".

"It's a show about kindness first and foremost," Gervais said. "There's some more dramatic moments than The Office or Extras", his show about actors looking for a big break. "It's sweeter. It still has the existentialism of The Office. There are still characters being daft, silly, or nice."

The show, which has already aired in Britain, stirred controversy when some critics complained that Gervais' character, Derek Noakes, appeared to have a disability and was being mocked.

Gervais has denied Noakes is disabled, describing his character as "innocent. He's childlike and he's in awe of the world. He does the right thing. He doesn't think about it".

Gervais said he conceived the character more than a decade ago and thought about making him an autograph seeker, putting him in a setting that would provide another chance to satirise celebrity culture. But he decided against it, placing Noakes instead in a retirement home after being inspired by family members who work as caregivers.

"I've got the swipes at fame and all those things out of the system, I think, and now it's about things that really matter."