“I got a solar powered meerkat here from the garden, that’s knackered”
The anticipation that has built for me since the airing of the pilot episode of Ricky Gervais’ Derek last year has been immense and tonight was finally the night we get our first mouth-watering taste of a full series. Immediately online have appeared numerous negative reviews slating Gervais for ill-tasting humour on the mentally handicapped and the elderly but I continuously ask myself, have these people actually watched the same show I have just seen? Even after just (technically) two episodes it is clear to see Ricky has put a lot of time and care into the creation of the character of Derek Noakes (played by himself) and also the surrounding as well as the supporting roles which are all rather cleverly developed. I’m going to take a quick look over this episode, its best bits and why I think it deserves to be seen as Gervais’ best work since The Office.
Derek takes inspiration from the people on the fringe of society, those who would be overlooked in every day life and shines them as a beacon of light over life and the situations they appear in. Gervais pours almost as much drama into this series as he does comedy and the mix is perfect and helps to establish love for all of the characters very early on. Derek’s disability isn’t played on, he just has it, and gets on with it, like he says at the end, ‘am I going to die… will it change me, no? Don’t bother then’ his outlook on life and his focus and intentions are always kind and no matter what happens to him he seems to look on the bright side, as I have said before in previous posts I love how this just shows it doesn’t matter who you are, if you are kind and a good person, what else really matters.
Like The Office an arc is set up early, and very similar to The Office it is the threat of closure, this time to the old people’s home Derek works in. Hannah, a strong female lead played by Kerry Godliman isn’t too disimilar to Dawn in her attitudes and beliefs and we saw in the pilot she wants to be happy herself which is always endearing in a character. The story moves quickly and Pilkington in the role of Dougie is surprisingly stand out to what we originally saw in the pilot. At first (Gervais fans who are wary of Karlisms from XFM especially) will see this character maybe as Karl just playing himself, in a silly wig, but after a few minutes of this episode we begin to see a different side of maybe a more intelligent character and where there certainly are similarities between the two we kind of get the feeling that Derek may have had an effect on Dougie and where Derek sometimes can’t say what he really thinks because he simply doesn’t know how we see Dougie finally get one over on early-established villain of the piece Roger at the end of the episode and judging by his reaction almost starting to feel as if he belongs as his character is set up to be more of an outcast… a silent guardian of the care-home, fixing toasters and mugs in the shadow of his basement. Dougie’s final rage at Roger really was a stand-up and applaud moment in the episode and for me springs Gervais back to that feeling that The Office gives you while watching of having the laugh out loud comedy, but also the brilliant drama that makes you go ‘yes!’ – “Ticked enough boxes haven’t ya? Pissed everyone off have you roger? You can shoot off now can’t ya… nob’ead”.
“Someone yelled there’s an egg with sideburns… water off a ducks back”
Kev is also a very funny character in the show and really contrasts the others by being another outcast and someone sitting on the fringe of British Society but for very different reasons, again his intentions are obviously good and he does no harm to the elderly in the home and instead talks to them but for me he feels like what Jay from The Inbetweeners would be like in 30 years time, his crude and odd humour really makes an impact with the audience and the scene where he chats up women on Hamsted high street is a classic. Some of his lines are up there with the quotability of The Office – “No mate but I want a bit of pudding… Yeah… Sex pudding!” and “I wouldn’t mind Joanna Lumley all over my fucking Gurkhas” really spring from left field with the more slapstick and harmless comedy offered by Derek.
Derek himself is obviously a character loved by Gervais and this is why he is so different from everything he has done before, Brent and Millman are both egotistical but loveable for very different reasons whereas Derek will put anything and anyone before himself and his needs and the show itself really makes the statement of why do we feel the need to judge people on a disability they may have? Derek would never harm a fly but because he may be autistic he shouldn’t be allowed to give the love and care to the elderly that others would not give. This is cleverly shown in a very satirical way when we see a community service worker caring for the elderly, he’s allowed to on the system whereas Derek ‘shouldn’t be’ really does ask a lot of questions about our systems in the UK.
I have to say this is probably eventually going to go down as one of Gervais’ most brilliant but overlooked pieces of work, much like Cemetery Junction it is powerful and interesting while always being funny and daring. Why should some subjects be ‘out of bounds’ to laugh with, Gervais isn’t laughing at Noakes but with him, he may say funny things but the real humour that is reminiscent of The Office comes from Kev and Dougie and that is where the strong points in the show lie. It’s not edgy or cool to judge someone so harshly because they are popular, we should be celebrating this and even if Lifes Too Short wasn’t up to the standard Gervais has set himself it’s a damn sight better than Coming of Age or the majority of crap that is churned out by BBC3 and E4 comedies over the years and as for Derek… I would say it could be on a par with The Office by time this series ends. Remember, The Office was always criticised when it first aired but that never stopped it’s true brilliance shining at The Globes and Emmies.
Cannot wait for next week!