The much talked about new comedy pilot from Ricky Gervais was shown on Channel 4 this week, gaining a lot of media attention due to it’s sensitive subject matter. But was it worth the wait and what was all the fuss about?
We have to applaud Ricky Gervais, he has changed sitcom forever and has been the best thing to happen to comedy for along time now as ‘The Office’ and Extras were completely unique and original programmes. Although both shows being completely hilarious there were genuinely relatable characters who brought various emotions and touching scenes. Then there was ‘Life’s too short’ which is pretty much the same format as ‘Extras’ but wasn’t as funny.
Much like ’Life’s too short’, Gervais has once again applied an existing format to a new concept with ‘Derek’ this time. There isn’t anything wrong with this of course, it’s a tried and tested format so why not use it again.
‘Derek’ is about a man called Derek surprisingly who works in an old peoples home. Derek isn’t disabled (or is he? Ricky won’t say) but is a little peculiar to say the least, it’s like he’s pretending to be Frank Spencer. Much like ‘The Office’ we are introduced to a handful of characters who live and work there including Hannah, a carer and Derek’s sort of love interest and Karl Pilkington who plays the caretaker. Hannah is very very similar to Maggie from ‘Extras’ a middle aged woman with not a lot of self confidence who is looking for Mr. Right. Karl’s character is basically just Karl in a wig, I’m pretty sure most of the dialogue between him and Ricky is improvised as sometimes it feels like you are watching ‘An idiot abroad’. A lot has been said of Karl’s role in ‘Derek’ mainly speculation that he is an actor and was just pretending in ‘An idiot abroad’ which is bullshit really because he would have to be a great actor if you have ever seen ‘An idiot abroad’.
The show focuses on the interaction between the elderly people who live in the home and the carers’ own lives. It’s quite a touching piece of television, there’s lots of pain, suffering and anguish, so much so that you couldn’t call it a comedy. There was only a few laugh out loud moments but you expect a lot more from Ricky Gervais. One of the elderly ladies who lives in the home passes away and Derek is quite close to her, we then see him struggle to cope with the loss but he knows that’s the down side about getting so close to the people he cares for.
Ricky Gervais has a real knack of creating sympathetic characters all of whom have relatable problems and flaws. Even David Brent who was hysterically funny still had his issues which explained a lot about him. Derek is one of those people who are a little odd and perceived as the sort of person you wouldn’t want to leave with your kids. This is addressed in the show, everyone thinks he’s strange but deep down he’s a caring and sensitive person. One scene in particular hammered this home when some chav girls in a pub started calling him a paedo only to have Hannah headbutt one of them, whilst the theme from 8-mile played in the background. The only place these people feel comfortable and accepted in is in the care home, inside a bubble where nobody can judge them and they just be themselves. Peter Kay did a similar thing about 10 years ago on ‘That Peter Kay Thing’ when he played ‘Leonard’ who was similar to Derek. Again, he was another one of society’s outcasts who had a peculiar outlook on life but people judged him for the way he looked.
I’d be interested in seeing if they did a series of ‘Derek’ because it definitely has the potential to be a great show. This is by far the best acting performance I’ve seen by Ricky Gervais, he’s performing a complex character which if he gets wrong might perceive him as mocking the disabled. The tone of the show would need a serious tweak, just a bit funnier with some classic Gervais calamity thrown in. Derek is a beautiful piece of television but it’s a tweet randomly from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall which sums up the show: ‘The greatest mistake about Derek was calling it a sitcom’.