Thursday, 31 January 2013

TV Review: Channel 4's DEREK


Last year's pilot was given a mixed reception by audiences and critics alike, but Derek's back for a six-part series written, directed and starring Ricky Gervais as the eponymous care home worker. It's easy to see why people are having trouble parsing their thoughts about a show like this; partly because it touches on subject matter many are uncomfortable with (the mentally infirm and social outcasts). But I think the bigger issue is having Ricky Gervais play the lead role, when it would have been more interesting to give it to someone closer to a genuine Derek Noakes—given how the show endeavours to appear realistic, yet has its reality burst every time you see "David Brent with an underbite" or An Idiot Abroad's Karl Pilkington dressed as a character from the Guess Who? board game.

It goes without saying that Gervais is no Dustin Hoffman when it comes to portraying a man with a mental condition. I have no doubt he feels a genuinely deep attachment to Derek as a simple and kind-hearted middle-aged man with a childish deportment and low IQ, but I can't get past how mawkish and broad Derek is compared to everyone else. And when Karl Pilkington is putting in a more subtle and nuanced performance, you surely have to worry.

This episode felt slightly weaker than the 2012 pilot, but at last Gervais avoided the ill-advised slapstick moments involving Derek. Sadly, in its place was a storyline about a stern councilman who's trying to close Broadhill; likely resulting in the residents behind re-homed and breaking up their tight community. There's nothing wrong with that story in essence, but it's the most obvious and unimaginative one to pursue given Derek's concept. In fact, the whole comedy is frustratingly low on wit and ingenuity—making me wonder, increasingly so, if Stephen Merchant was the man responsible for aspects of The Office and Extras that Gervais simply can't deliver solo. Then again, both Gervais and Merchant were responsible for the terrible Life's Too Short, so maybe they're just close to exhausting their bag of tricks.

On the positive side, Kerry Godliman's very good as kindly care worker Hannah (although her Office-style "talking heads" are unnecessary) and Pilkington's good as Dougie the caretaker. I also can't argue with the basic idea of a sitcom focusing on oddball characters of this nature; in a largely depressing setting many of us pretend doesn't exist. I just wish Derek was funnier, stopped the incessant piano music telling you how to feel, and ultimately didn't have Ricky Gervais pulling faces as the majority of a performance.

written & directed by Ricky Gervais / 30 January 2013 / Channel 4
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