Friday, 25 April 2014

Review: Channel 4's DEREK - Series 2

Friday, 25 April 2014

The intention behind Derek (and one that writer-star Ricky Gervais believes he's succeeded at) is to take an affectionate and half-serious look at the state of elderly health care in the UK, while making people fall in love with the eponymous simpleton Gervais plays. Never mind the fact Derek started life as a blunt characterisation of a mentally-disabled man, or that one of Gervais's own stand-up comedy shows saw him "doing Derek" to mimic the abnormal nerds with bad haircuts that occasionally pester him for autographs. Maybe he's had a change of heart since then, and now sees Derek-types as beacons of hope in a cynical world. Or maybe he's just realised his range as an actor (after six degrees of David Brent) immediately narrows into going "full retard"--as Robert Downey Jr's character described it in Tropic Thunder.

I find it painful to watch Ricky Gervais shuffle around as misfit Derek; jutting his jawline, mumbling dialogue, and making only occasional eye contact. It's a sub-Forrest Gump performance from someone whose talents lie elsewhere; but then you remember Gervais is also responsible for the awful script he's performing—which lurches from bathetic sentimentality (Derek watches a video of a dead woman singing a song he liked), to pensioners being within earshot of the younger residents being crude.

Strangely, for a sitcom that's supposed to celebrate the elderly and rally against how they're often marginalised in modern society, Derek is monumentally hypocritical. It continually reduces the old folks to wrinkled extras (only giving a few some brief lines), because the bulk of the show is carried by the middle-aged cast. BBC sitcom Waiting for God succeeded far better at painting a positive picture of retired OAPs (making them appear ordinary, heroic, and sexually active), and that sitcom ended two decades ago.

In Derek, it's also a big problem that, beyond care home worker Hannah (stalwart Kerry Godliman), there's nobody around to truly like. Derek is a six-year-old's idea of a loveable hero because he's too stupid to be anything else, his "friend" Kev (David Earl) is a gross pervert, and gloomy caretaker Dougie bursts whatever "reality" the show achieves because he's played by Gervais's idiot sidekick Karl Pilkington in a Mick Miller wig. Amusingly, professional buffoon Pilkington has actually made the cleverest decision of the series, by opting to be written out in episode one.

Derek's a bad, ham-fisted, mawkish mess of a comedy; but it's created by the man who launched a thousand TV mockumentaries with The Office. But that past glory's star is waning after a decade, and unless Gervais can launch another unequivocal hit he could be in trouble. Playing second fiddle to The Muppets and going viral as an occasional awards show emcee may pay some bills, but it's about time Gervais started being funny again.

Wednesdays, Channel 4