Derek: 1.01 - Review
Last night, Ricky Gervais brought back Derek for a six-part series on Channel 4 after last year's pilot. That pilot elicited a range of reactions, from praise to confusion, all the way up to flat-out offence at the lead character's portrayal. Personally, I gave it a hesitantly good review, but I saw others get annoyed, with well-explained reasons.
So, now he's back for a whole six episodes. How will this go?
"@Derek What is the nature of you?"
At the end of my last review, I mused that although I'd enjoyed the Derek pilot, I wasn't sure how it would work as a whole series. Having seen the first episode of said series, I'm... still a little confused, but curious with it. In addition to Gervais as Derek, Karl Pilkington as Dougie and Kerry Godliman as Hannah, they've added David Earl as Kev, so there's more material there, as well as an over-arching plot involving the nursing home self-funding to avoid closure, which seems a likely source of future hi-jinx.
Which is fair enough material. Most of the controversy around Derek has centred on the lead character - we find ourselves in the odd position of watching the show through the filter of Ricky Gervais's Twitter comments. He's insisted Derek is not intended as a portrayal of mental illness or disability, he's just a simple, kind-hearted man in a cruel world. Which is odd compared to the actual show itself, wherein a passing evil buraeucrat asks whether Derek is autistic or some such, and we're basically told "So what if he is?" by everyone involved.
Which isn't exactly what Gervais has said on Twitter, but I'm not sure "It contradicts the writer's tweets" is really a valid criticism of any story.
A Simple Show For Complex Times?
The bigger problem with Derek, really, is the sheer simplicity of it all. The jokes are still very low-key, there's not even a slapstick pond pratfall this time (not that this is a sad loss) and we're mostly relying on disgusting comments from Kev and laconic comebacks from Dougie. Derek himself is incredibly low-key and ineffectively nice - in fact, if you watched this show without knowing the title or the star status of Gervais, you'd probably think the leads were Hannah and Dougie.
Dougie, by the way, has a lot of good moments. Maybe Pilkington is growing as an actor, or this role was simply written around him so much that he doesn't need to, but either way, it works.
Still, it feels very goodies vs baddies, piano music to symbolise a sad bit, uncomplicated carers-are-saints. Hell, it could almost be a straight docusoap sometimes. Ultimately, I enjoyed watching it - in a world full of misery where I have to review Black Mirror and The Walking Dead, there's room in my life for twenty-five minutes a week of gentle comedy accompanied by some blatant heartstring tugging. But is it an amazing show with something new to say? Not really, it's just a lightly dramatic, kind comedy. It probably won't be seen as Gervais's finest work as an author, but if this is what he wants to do for now, fair enough.
Derek airs at 10PM Wednesdays on Channel 4. More info on the official Channel 4 Derek site, past episodes available on 4OD.