Love him or loathe him there's no denying that Ricky Gervais (The Office, Extras, Life's Too Short) gets people talking, and more importantly watching.
His latest venture aired last night on Channel 4 and was a one-off half-hour comedy drama, (why it wasn't called a pilot I'll never know!) called Derek which was an idea Ricky Gervais had long before he dreamt up The Office, so it's fair to say that for Gervais at least this show has been a long time coming. Not content with just writing the episode, Gervais decided to star as the main character Derek, a 49 year old man who works in a care home.
The third wheel in Ricky and Stephen Merchant's relationship, Karl Pilkington, appears in his debut acting role, as Dougie the landlord/caretaker of the care home and best mate of Derek. Also starring in Derek is Kerri Godliman in the role of Hannah, who runs the home and always puts others first.
Gervais once again adopts the documentary style he made famous with The Office and more recently Life's Too Short. Despite enjoying Life's Too Short yet noticing its flaws I watched Derek last night wanting it to be good, and for me, it was. I had my reservations on how they could market a pilot as a 'one-off comedy drama' but in fact it seemed to work very well.The first half of the episode was far more comical than the second, and served to establish the characters and the tone of the piece. The episode begins with Derek introducing us to the care home and the various characters within it and in particular Hannah, who as we mentioned earlier is the care-worker who runs the home.
Derek and Hannah's relationship is evident from the moment Derek says "She's my favourite in a different way, probably gonna marry her. She says no." to which she replies with screw of the face yet admitting that he does make her laugh. It becomes clear from the get-go that Hannah sees him as nothing more than a good guy and a good friend. Had this have been David Brent, from The Office saying these lines it would have inevitably sounded, cocky, arrogant, cringy and somewhat chauvinistic, yet Derek (whilst similar in some respects, partly due to Gervais' acting style) is on the opposite side of the spectrum and is shy, caring and somewhat different.
His relationship with pensioner Joan is introduced towards the end of the first half and fully developed in the second half. Derek is extremely fond of Joan and when he discover the great news that she has won £10 on a scratch card, the celebration is short lived when he is given bad news by Hannah.
Notice how I used the word 'different' to describe Derek? Well, a lot has been said in the press about Derek's leading character, and the way in which Gervais uses him to poke fun at the disabled, especially after his frequent use of the word 'mong' (an offensive term for someone with Down's Syndrome).Part of me can see where the controversial remarks stem from as Derek is a character that appears to have some kind of disability and Ricky Gervais is very obviously 'in character' and not a friend of the media at the best of times, his portrayal can come across as false and discriminative.However at least 80% of me agrees with Gervais when he said recently on BBC Radio 5 that he never considered Derek to have a learning disability and instead thinks of him as a 'funny little nerd' which I suppose is more acceptable.
But having said that comedy is meant to deal with taboo subjects and Ricky Gervais seems to be one of the very few who still maintain this view on comedy. Rather than controversial, I find it refreshing that there is someone out there trying to do something different, there are so many times we can watch a family squabble or a girl bring a boy back to disapproval from her parents. A funny nerd looking after old people in a care home is certainly taboo breaking and a great foundation for a comedy.
And even if Derek does have a disability, this is not what Derek should be about but instead Gervais has said that 'There are lots of stories to explore with the old people and their problems. I want to explore these chracters. No one cares about old people in this country', so inevitably it is the old people Gervais wants people to talk about and not the way in which he portrays a middle-aged man that may or not be disabled.
So why make Derek the main character and name the show after him then? Well, because Derek is more than just a 2D character, and is one that deserves to be appreciated for more than his different characteristics. In this one-off episode we got to see various sides to his character. When we're not seeing him watch a hamster dance on YouTube he's flirting with Hannah or hanging out with his autograph-hunter friend. This probably sums up the comedy part of his character but then beneath the surface is a warm guy who really cares for the people in the home and as mentioned earlier this side of him is fully developed with the relationship between Derek and Joan.
Despite being Karl Pilkington's (see image below) debut acting role, his character Douglas, care home landlord/caretaker, is not far removed from the person playing him. Karl's charm is ultimately what endeared us to him in The Ricky Gervais Show and An Idiot Abroad, so I guess if it ain't broke don't fix it. And after all why wouldn't it be as Gervais has said that he wrote the role for Pilkington and if you've ever seen an episode of An Idiot Abroad you'll know exactly what Gervais thinks of him.
From reading various comments online, it appears that Pilkington's role in Derek came up time and time again as a particular highlight, with many tuning in just to see him and somewhat disappointed with the fact that he isn't seen nearly as much as the ever so controversial Ricky Gervais. But fear not, if this does get turned into a series, and I can't see why it wouldn't, then I'm sure Douglas will be seen a lot more than he was in this first episode.
So overall I really enjoyed Derek and I am looking forward to seeing a full series as I can really see potential for a great series. I'm sure for many of you, reading this would have whet your appetite and if you weren't part of the 2.05 million that tuned in, don't worry because 4oD comes up trumps again and you can watch it on there.