Last night, Channel 4 aired ‘Derek’, Ricky Gervais’ latest comedy offering. Advertised as a comedy drama, Derek returns Gervais to the mockumentary genre that he (and frequent writing partner Stephen Merchant) redefined with The Office in 2001. Unlike that earlier work however, Derek seems to concentrate more on the drama and less on the comedy. Indeed it was actually Gervais long-time friend and comedy gimp Karl Pilkington that provided the majority of the laughs here leaving Ricky to concentrate on acting out his role as Derek Noakes the 49 year old retirement home worker with learning difficulties. A tricky role for even the most established acting talent to approach but even more so for a man who’s career, to date, has been defined by making us laugh.
And it was this, to me, that was Derek’s biggest problem. I struggled no end, to take Gervais’ character seriously. The full extent of Derek’s learning difficulty was not explored but the mental disability was thoroughly overshadowed by the characters pronounced jaw, crossed eyes and shuffling walk all of which were thoroughly superfluous and were probably the main reasons that Derek has come under fire from those seeing it as an opportunity to generate laughs from disability. For me, Derek Noakes as a character would have been much stronger without these physical impairments.
Setting the comedy in an elderly care home is an inspired idea and Gervais’ philosophy on why he chose this setting seems sincere if not slightly confused. The wealth of fantastic character opportunities that become available when dealing with people drawing near to the end of their days but who have a plethora of life experiences and baggage is enormous. This wasn’t tapped in to at all with the slight exception of Jean who passed away during the show. Sorry Rick but we really didn’t get the chance to know her so, despite your tears we couldn’t share your pain.
Opinions of Derek on Twitter were mixed with the majority of people seemingly concentrating more on the YouTube video featured in the show than the acting, the comedy or the social issues that were addressed.
It would be wrong to end this without some mention of Karl Pilkington who, in his acting debut was no different to when we last saw him in An Idiot Abroad 2 with the exception of an obviously fake, bald hair piece. That’s no bad thing though as Karl is just so genuinely funny. There have been musings for a while that Karl is a character devised by Ricky and Steve but you only have to listen to the original Xfm shows to know that this is not so.
Like Nick Frost, Karl seems to have been able to effortlessly turn his hand to acting by simply remaining himself. Whether he can ever successfully act as anyone other than himself remains to be seen but then, in my opinion this also still remains true of Ricky himself.