Ricky Gervais’ pet project Derek continues this week with episode 2. Here is my thoughts.
Gervais, alongside Stephen Merchant, was of course responsible for The Office, a show that changed the way we view the mockumentary format and spawned dozens of imitations, and Extras, which had much to say on the celebrity obsessed fame hungry society we seem to have found ourselves in.
Derek on the other hand doesn’t really seem to be about anything. Ostensibly set in an old people’s home, nothing much happens apart from Derek wandering around making twee statements about the animals he likes and aren’t old people great? The role of Hannah, the care home manager, is to constantly display quiet desperation and frustration with everything. Karl Pilkington’s character, Dougie, is just Karl Pilkington in a funny wig, with all of the grumpiness but none of the off the wall wit that has made him famous. There are so few laughs in this that it feels more like some glum documentary than a supposed comedy show.
I’ve heard it said that those who criticise Derek for not being hilarious have missed the point. If that’s the case then I must admit I genuinely have no clue what Gervais is trying to achieve. If it’s to make a comment on society then what is that comment?
Take last night’s episode as an example. The plot involved a stereotypical uninterested teenage girl doing community service at the home. Initially, as you’d expect, she hates it. But then one of the residents talks to her and suddenly she loves it, becomes more involved and is given an outstanding assessment, which causes her to break down as no one has ever said anything good about her before. So what’s the message we can take away from this? They’re not bad kids as long as you give them a bit of encouragement once in a while?
It’s trite and obvious statements like this that leave me wondering what the point of this show is. And it’s crushingly dull situations that leave me struggling to care. There’s some other bits going on in the episode about a trip to the library and Derek’s 50th birthday celebrations, but these amount to nothing and don’t set up remotely funny situations.
Gervais has been far more successful at creating comedy that makes a statement on society in the past (although I suspect Merchant’s involvement has played a strong part) and I find it utterly bewildering why Gervais has said that he consider this his best work yet, and has committed to it to such an extent that he has said that there will be more series even if it doesn’t get another series with a major broadcaster.
With the ability to produce and publish content directly to websites such as Netflix and YouTube that is where future episodes will undoubtedly end up, and that is where they deserve to remain.
Derek is on Channel 4 Wednesdays at 10pm