Ricky Gervais' sitcom Derek ended this week and Channel 4 have ordered a second series, but I'm sorry to say my thoughts haven't changed a great deal since episode 1. It's a show where Gervais can eulogize his world-view through the eponymous simpleton he plays—a softer take on the ugly sketch incarnation of autograph-hunter Derek Noakes, elevated to holiness by those around him because of his intrinsic kindness. Even characters that never appeared to care too much about Derek were moved to tears when interviewed about him during the last episode, which itself came packaged as a double-whammy of easy emotion: a funeral for one of the residents (whom we barely knew), and the arrival of Derek's estranged father (whom we never knew existed until now).
Derek isn't a very funny show because it so desperately wants to be about something "deep", and is completely hamstrung by the fact Gervais' skills as a comedian are verbal not physical. Derek is consequently a shuffling cartoon character with Hitler's hair and prognathism, who's failed to do anything hilarious for six weeks (unless crap ventriloquism makes you wet yourself). But the saddo character's is a direct link to Ricky's tear ducts; because whenever he's spouting his trite philosophies about life it never fails to get Gervais misty-eyed. And I guess crying equals a "fantastic performance" for both Gervais and Derek apologists, but I view it as a blubbing shortcut that attempts to excuse the character's sins.
After all: if you don't like Derek, you therefore don't like Derek Noakes, and if you don't like Derek Noakes then you can't like placid folk who live in care homes and look after sick animals. Isn't that right? Well no, it's not. I don't like Derek because he's rarely shown doing anything useful in the care home, and would rather the show champion Hannah (Keri Godliman) the selfless care home worker. She actually has a choice when it comes to helping these poor people, whereas the institutionalized Derek's stuck in an environment he's used to making the best of.
Besides Derek himself, it's noticeable how pointless the elderly supporting cast is—despite, very ironically, being the people Gervais is allegedly trying to give voice to! So you end up with odd occasions like when end credits were played over cinefilm of the geriatric actors, in an attempt to "make you think" about how wrinkled nobodies were once vibrant and young. A noble statement, sure, but why can't Gervais include them more and make them an active part of the comedy and narrative? That's a better way of empowering them, but every episode instead revolves around the dislikeable trio of guileless Derek, cynical janitor Dougie (Karl Pilkington), and peevish git Kev (David Earl)—all middle-aged men playing dumb for the camera.
In the finale an old woman with Alzheimer's tragically died, but we'd formed no connection to her as a person. It was only a sad event because, well, people aren't heartless when shown the funeral of an old woman... but there was the chance here to make you care about one of Derek's background characters before she passed away, and it was duly squandered. It felt very lazy to crowbar in a five minute segment about her fading life with her visiting husband (who actually gave the show's best performance), or to have Coldplay on the soundtrack for longer than one of their concerts.
So no, Derek isn't for me—quite apart from the fact it leans heavily on basic tricks learned from The Office, but hasn't the skill to use them well or progress them, which shows how poorly Gervais has evolved since 2003. But the biggest problem is how I don't buy into Derek as a character because he's a lazy bag of physical quirks; there to give us Ricky Gervais' sentimentalized thoughts on life. From religion to ageism, gurning Derek has a naïve point-of-view to make mawkish hearts swell everywhere.
Derek will return for another series and probably conclude with a Christmas special... thus cementing its status as a "cult classic" that split opinion because of the "tough issues" it raised, but only in Ricky Gervais' insular mind.