Ricky Gervais has been on a rollercoaster of affection with his viewing public, since "doing the dance" into their consciousness as beleaguered everyman in The Office, taking on all comers at the Golden Globes at his first attempt, and helping define television comedy for a generation.
Viewers were equally taken aback and impressed by his take on celebrity in Extras, which made a star of Ashley Jensen and changed our view forever of the likes of Kate Winslet, Orlando Bloom and Patrick Stewart.
Since then, Gervais has taken the Hollywood big screen by semi-storm, with an acting-writing turn in The Invention of Lying and Cemetery Junction, guest spots on Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Simpsons, and a merry whip-up of controversy presenting The Golden Globes - so critical of everyone in the room they asked him back the following year.
But the smiles faded last year with Life's Too Short - viewers left less than entranced by Gervais and Merchant's smug sit-in with celebrities they used to fawn over, and the Chaplin-esque physical comedy of dwarf actor Warwick Davis.
Tonight, we see Gervais branching out on his own, for the first time in years, to write and play the role of Derek, a sweet, simple character working in an old people's home. Critics who've had enough of Gervais's particular kind of humour are standing by, in fact they've already jumped in to attack this apparent mockery of a weaker strand of society, but the writer has defied them, calling Derek a "good, simple man" - implying those people should look to themselves if they see anything less than a sympathetic portrayal.
It's a brave move, potentially more exposing of the man than when Gervais is hiding behind his usual schtick of mocking his friends, and braying with a high-pitched, insistent laugh. He's not completely alone in this, either. His friend Karl Pilkington, whom he made famous with his radio programme and then An Idiot Abroad, is in his debut role here as Dougie, Derek's landlord and colleague.
So there's a lot that could be good, and there's a lot that could go horribly wrong. It's on at 10pm tonight on Channel 4, and I'll publish a full review immediately following, so please chip in with your thoughts.
In the meantime, here's a clip...
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