Derek - Review

Last Thursday, Ricky Gervais aired his newest pilot on Channel 4 for a potential new series. Derek, a “comedy-drama”, features Gervais as a worker in a care home who has trouble relating normally to others, but, unlike other Gervais characters, this manifests as superlative niceness, not obnoxious showboating.

So, did the notoriously controversial comedian handle this without offending everyone? And achieve both comedy and drama at the same time?

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To be honest, if one were to review Derek as a comedy, it wouldn’t score well. There are almost no jokes, it builds to an emotional climax rather than a comic one, and I can see why many have been confused. After all, it’s a project from a known comedian, advertised as a “comedy-drama” and it isn’t that funny.

There are misunderstandings, Karl Pilkington has some fun lines, but the smiles just provide a break in the sweet yet sad fog that hangs over the whole piece. I was impressed by how seriously they built their story, but it made for a strange, awkward experience, and not in the funny way that The Office or Peep Show do. Because most of the characters are so pleasant, instead of foolish or arrogant, their plight is upsetting rather than deserved.

Gervais's own performance as Derek involved more acting than he usually does in his own comedies, and he had a good go. Perhaps slipped into caricature a little, I'm not sure Derek needed such a scuttling walk, but he got the unironic niceness of the man across, which seemed his main aim.

An interesting half hour, then, for the sight of Ricky Gervais taking a step out of his comfort zone into almost-straight drama. Whether the show itself entirely worked, I don’t know - it seemed more a showcase for his portrayal of Derek than having a strong drive of its own, and the ending felt manipulative, since they'd meandered for most of the runtime instead of setting up the relationship in question.

If Gervais wanted to produce a series in this setting, the pieces are in place, and with more purposeful writing, humour and proper story, it could be good. But in its current form, a drifty performance piece, Derek probably works better as a one-off homage to sweet human kindness.

Derek is available on 4 On Demand for another few weeks.

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