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TV review: Derek, starring Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington
Set in a care home for the elderly, and billed by Channel 4 as "a bittersweet one-off comedy drama," Derek is written and directed by the ubiquitous Ricky Gervais, who also plays the title role. It focuses on care worker Derek Noakes (Gervais), described by his creator as one of "those people you meet who are on the margins of society. Nerds, loners, underachievers."
The show also stars perennial Gervais dupe Karl Pilkington as caretaker Dougie, and Kerry Godliman as fellow care worker Hannah.
But, after 'mong-gate' and the ratings disaster that was Life's Too Short, is Derek the vehicle that will prove Gervais' detractors wrong? Or is it just another thoughtless, lazy jibe at disabled people?
The 60 seconds of YouTube classic 'hamster on a piano' was the best bit of the show by far and, perhaps coincidentally, the only thing here not penned by Gervais. In addition, Kerry Godliman steals the show as Hannah, the care worker who is Derek's best friend.
Where to begin? Derek sitting down in a bowl of custard; Derek falling into a pond; Derek being verbally abused in a pub; Derek mugging at the camera. Take your pick.
These days, it's hard to believe Ricky Gervais was once the darling of the critics. But he was, thanks to The Office and Extras. In those two shows, the observational comedy derived from the everyday rightly saw him hailed for his talent.
"Ricky Gervais was the darling of the critics"
But then 'mong-gate' came along, followed closely by BBC2 flop, Life's Too Short. And now Derek.
Once again, Ricky Gervais finds himself at the centre of a storm of controversy as his latest comedy-drama-mockumentary hits our screens for the first (and hopefully last) time.
Naturally, Derek's creator has been quick to the defence of his 'new' character who, incidentally, he first played on stage at the Edinburgh Festival over 10 years ago.
"Derek is a fictional character and is defined by his creator - me," he has said. "If I say I don't mean him to be disabled then that's it. A fictional doctor can't come along and prove me wrong."
Nor, apparently, can YouTube. Awash until recently with clips of the Derek character, the internet is now mysteriously devoid of anything but trailers for the new - and presumably toned-down-for-TV show.
Viewers of the Channel 4 show are free to make up their own minds about Derek. To my mind, he is quite plainly intended to display the characteristics of a man with autism or some other learning disability. And no amount of Gervais flannel about "fictional doctors" will make me believe otherwise.
"perhaps Gervais is attempting to subvert a comedy genre"
Is Derek satire? Is it intended as a social comment on prejudice against disabled people?
Perhaps. Or perhaps Gervais is attempting to subvert a comedy genre that doesn't even exist. In which case - why bother?
For starters, the sight of a man accidentally sitting down in a bowl of rhubarb crumble and custard, or falling into a garden pond hasn't been funny since Terry and June's heyday (and, some might say, not even then).
It's even less entertaining when the hapless butt of these 'jokes' happens to be someone who, in less enlightened times, might have been dismissed as a simpleton.
Derek: the verdict
For something billed as a comedy, the laughs are few and far between. Unless, that is, you happen to be tickled by spending 30 minutes gawping at a multi-millionaire Hollywood superstar donning tank top and custard-covered trousers, sporting a greasy comb-over and gurning repeatedly at the camera.
"sporting a greasy comb-over and gurning repeatedly at the camera"
In addition to all the terrible slapstick and facial contortions, there's a cheap jibe about Fern Britton's weight; a man with a fungal infection in his groin and a scene in a minibus where Derek's repeated attempts to grab Dougie (Karl Pilkington)'s attention are so agonisingly derivative of the 'Dan' scene in I'm Alan Partridge that it's almost painful to continue watching.
Karl Pilkington, as long-suffering caretaker Dougie, and Kerry Godliman as Hannah, are faced with the unenviable task of dragging this misguided venture out of the mire.
If only because they distract attention from Gervais' grotesque parody of disability - all lank hair, shuffling gait and nervous tics - they steal the show. And that's not something you get to say often about Pilkington.
In Ms Godliman's utterly sympathetic Hannah, Derek found its heart and its poignancy. Ricky Gervais' wonderfully understated females remains the most welcome trait that has survived, and thrived, since The Office.
Derek (the show) is awkward, clunky, derivative and morally bankrupt. Perhaps worse than that, it's about as much fun as being stuck in a lift with George Osborne for 30 interminable minutes. Me? I didn't laugh once. I didn't even chuckle. Nope: not even a wry smile.
In fact, I was left wondering if Derek was ever really intended to be a comedy at all. And, if not, then what?
- Ricky Gervais has well and truly lost his mojo with one-off Channel 4 'comedy' Derek. One star out of five.
TV quotes of the week - Derek
"These glasses aren't mine. Someone died a few years ago. These are the perks." - Unusually, Karl Pilkington is the funniest thing about Derek.
"It's like having a wasp in the car." - Dougie (Pilkington) hits the nail on the head.
"What would win between a suicide bomber and a shark?" Ricky Gervais has clearly been studying at the Chris Moyles school of comedy.
"He's funny, he's just funny." - Erm, no Hannah, he's not.
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