Ricky Gervais' "Derek," a new comedy-drama debuting Thursday on Britain's Channel 4, is already under fire from critics claiming the comic is mocking disabled people in the series, reports the BBC.
Gervais stars as the titular Derek in the show, which focuses on a man working in a retirement community. To play Derek, the star has his hair combed forward and juts his lower jaw out; he also affects a comedic voice. Wrote Gervais on his blog about playing Derek, "My jaw aches and I get a stiff neck from being hunched up all the time when I'm playing Derek. I suffer for my art, and now I want you to suffer for it too."
British comedian Stewart Lee wrote that Gervais was playing someone with "superficial similarities to Down's syndrome."
Gervais defended his show against such allegations in an interview with Nicky Clarke, a frequent campaigner for the rights of the disabled.
"Derek is a fictional character and is defined by his creator. Me. If I say I don't mean him to be disabled then that’s it. A fictional doctor can't come along and prove me wrong," Gervais said, before adding that Derek is another in a long line of "nerd, loners and underachievers."
"If he had any specific and defined disability I would either get an actor with that disability to play the role or I would make sure I was an expert in that disability and the best person for the job," said the comic.
Derek first appeared as a character at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival in 2001. In the short presented for the fest, Derek was "a 39-year-old aspiring stand-up comic living with his grandmother," reported the Australian site Daily Life.
"Derek" has no current U.S. airdate, but considering Gervais' popularity stateside it wouldn't be surprising to see it get picked up for domestic broadcast like "Extras" and "Life's Too Short."
Watch a clip from "Derek" below.