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TV Review: Derek/Channel 4

Gerry Corner finds the new Ricky Gervais outing not very good, but is that the most troubling thing about it?

Written by . Published on April 15th 2012.

TV Review: Derek/Channel 4

RICKY Gervais's latest TV outing illustrates the ill-advisedness of stoning to death the accused before viewing the evidence.

Claims that Derek, a Channel 4 pilot in search of a series, mocked disabled people turned out to be largely unjustified – though the show is not without its worries.

But probably the most damning thing you can say about Derek, billed as a “bittersweet comedy drama”, is that it's not very good.

Any fretting over Gervais's intentions was understandable. For a start, he's got form. The comic's implorings that Life's Too Short – his last attempt at sitcom – was about “finding optimism and warmth in a small world where big things happen” were rather lost in a welter of dwarf gags.

'You can't avoid tackling difficult subjects
just because somebody might get hurt,
but if there are going to be consequences you
had better be damned sure it was worth it'

Then there was the Twitter war in which Gervais unconvincingly argued that “mong” was no longer used as an odious reference to people with Down's syndrome.

Now comes another controversy  in the form of Derek Noakes, a comic creation Gervais first unleashed as part of a stage show in 2001. Ricky said Derek was “different”. Others said he displayed all the signs of learning difficulties.

When Gervais announced that Derek might be in line for his own TV series, the disabled community, already bearing the brunt of the Chancellor's cuts, prepared for another kind of onslaught. Wasn't it bad enough that George Osborne was taking the piss without Britain's richest comedian starting on them as well?

We could hardly rely on C4, currently airing a show about people with disabilities seeking love - unsparingly entitled The Undateables - to ensure that good taste prevailed.

Gervais plays Derek, a good-hearted helper in a retirement home, alongside actor/comic Kerry Godliman as Hannah, a care worker. Hannah appears to be the only person actually being paid to provide for the home's residents, so the show at least provides an accurate picture of 21st century geriatric care.

Derek follows the standard Gervais spoof documentary format, which starts to look tired here. An unkind analysis might conclude he persists with the form to save worrying about the challenges of exposition. Why show that Hannah is unlucky in love, if, in a confessional moment to camera, she can just tell us?

Only now and again are there flashes of the acute observation for which Gervais earned his reputation. Humour (such as it is; I don't recall laughing at all during the first half) comes partly from the slapstick school of comedy – at one point Derek hilariously sits on a bowl of rhubarb and custard – and partly from The Office's stock-in-trade squirmishness.

Derek Starring Ricky GervaisDerek: 'Ultimately about how kindness is “the most important thing”'

As for the drama, any sadness felt by Derek at the death of a resident meant little to viewers who were given next to nothing about their relationship, and instead prodded with doleful piano music and the sight of Gervais rubbing his eyes.

C4's synopsis for the show calls Derek “a tender, innocent man” who loves Jesus and Britain's Got Talent. “An outsider,” adds Gervais. Others observe that Derek would not be as he is if he did not possess some form of disability. I'm not sure Gervais’s insistence that he invented Derek - so if he says he doesn't have a disability “then that's it” - is good enough.

There is certainly no intentional cruelty. Indeed, the one instance of sneering at Derek, by drinkers at a rough pub, is met with swift justice in the form of a head-butt from Hannah.

However, in the real world, one suspects Hannah would have ended up being glassed for her trouble. Real-life Dereks don't have friends with instant solutions to bullying – too often they spend years of misery at the hands of persecutors who are just as inadequate but are better at hiding it.

You can't avoid tackling difficult subjects just because somebody might get hurt, but if there are going to be consequences you had better be damned sure it was worth it.

The comic's intentions may well be honourable. He says the show is ultimately about how kindness is “the most important thing”, which, if nothing else, contradicts any impression of Gervais as a callous exploiter of the weak.

Unfortunately, there is a section of humanity that will view Derek as a freak show. Everything about the character – from the bad Christmas cardie to the open-mouthed gape – looks like more ammunition for the bigots.

“Just because you are offended doesn't mean you are right,” Gervais insisted last week.

Tell that to @MargoJMilne, a wheelchair user, who posted this on Twitter: “And so it begins. A crowd of kids just yelled 'Oi, Derek!' at me in the street.”



You can follow Gerry Corner on Twitter here

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Michael CairnsApril 16th 2012.

Cracking piece Gerry. The producers can make all the excuses in the world about Derek being well meaning, but Gervais does not have the acting ability or the sensitivity to carry this off without looking like he's taking the piss for the benefit of his mates in the school canteen.

Most damning is that most people will assume it's a pisstake and that's likely to make it even tougher for people on the margins than it already is.

Prof ChucklebuttyApril 17th 2012.

Yes Mr Gerry has hit the nails on the head. I hope you gave him a toffee.

I am not on board the Gervais-bashing bus for the sake of it and I think this was an accurate balanced review.

Some things and shortcomings about characters and relationships I could let go as this is supposed to be a sort of pilot. (I couldn't forgive Pilkington's unnecessary and silly hair)

I felt the programme didn't know what it was or really what it was trying or pretending to be. But I can see it being very popular if it became a series, not because of the "importance of kindness" but because a few million blokes and kids will be doing the Derek walk and the Derek facial expression.

It's a step up from Little Britain "I want that one..." but it could easily go the same way with the public. Of course that could happen with lots of things... unkempt old blokes being called Steptoe or tall, handsome virile looking blokes having people shouting "Chucklebutty!" at them in the street. But for Gervais to pretend or insist that the character of Derek does not at least have learning difficulties or some sort of disability is nonesense and undermines the wrapping paper he is trying to put on it.

It would have been better if Gervais had said this is Derek and like many people of his age who have these characterisics, it may have remained undiagnosed so I am not going to label him.

At least the residents were not played by George Clooney, Meryl Streep or Johnny Depp.

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