I realise that it’s very popular to hate Ricky Gervais these days. I don’t quite know why – he created one of the most successful and important comedy shows in recent history and has only ever laughed about his rise to fame. However, that’s a whole other article; for now I’ll just put it down to the usual reason the British public turns on our country’s talent – he became successful and, what’s more, he had the audacity to refuse to be apologetic about it.
Gervais continues his success with Derek, a 30 minute pilot in which he plays the eponymous character, a sensitive and innocent (perhaps even naive) man who has a sincere love for his job as a carer at a retirement home. Supporting Gervais is Hannah (Kerry Godliman) a colleague and close friend, and Dougie (Karl Pilkington), the caretaker and Derek’s landlord.
Derek is both heartwarming and heartbreaking; it’s a well structured balance of tragedy and humour and it’s a real treat to see quality British TV still being made. Interestingly, whenever Gervais is without his writing partner Stephen Merchant (who co-wrote The Office and Extras) it becomes clear that he’s far more of a tragedian than he is a comedian. Derek clearly has the hallmarks of Gervais’ pathos; there are very few jokes and no big laughs, rather the focus is on the everyday, the familiar and the ordinary, which carries with it a certain sorrow that Gervais captures so well.
In Derek we see a tender portrayal of a kind but socially awkward individual who, when he’s not falling into ponds or knocking things over, is cutting the toe nails of the retirement home’s elderly inhabitants for a toffee or holding the hand of Joan, who reminds him of his mum as she falls asleep in her chair. Derek is a simple man who wants to help, to love and to be loved – childlike qualities that are both sweet yet in a sense pitiable, as after all, Derek is a 49-year-old-man.
Kerry Godliman is perfectly cast as the downtrodden co-worker who sees past Derek’s oddities – indeed had the pilot been longer, the odd platonic/romantic dynamic between the two could have been explored further and would have certainly added more depth. Karl Pilkington as the caretaker works well, but I suspect this is mainly because he’s playing himself “Why would I want to be on the telly?” he asks, “Everyone’s on the telly. I don’t want to be on the telly.”
Criticisms include the soundtrack – Ludovico Einaudi is overused. He seems to be the go-to man for cerebral/poignant piano-based music, and as a result soundtracks can’t help but feel uninspired when he keeps relentlessly popping up. As touched on earlier, the length of the programme was far too short, there was a lot crammed in to 30 minutes, and the emotional impact would have been undoubtedly far greater had Gervais extended the run-time to 60 minutes.
I shan’t give the ending away, but I’ll warn you it’s a tearjerker – if Tim’s note to Dawn encouraging her to “Never give up” or Andy Millman’s speech at the end of Extras made you well up, you’ll know what to expect. And to reiterate what I’ve said, this is exactly the kind of thing Ricky Gervais is good at; it’s a real shame he doesn’t focus more on writing comedy dramas like this and less on his stand up. This is a gem and well worth watching – look out for the full series, which is no doubt on its way.
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