There was a time when I used to think Ricky Gervais could do no wrong. I love The Office, Extras was a fantastic follow-up and his first few stand-ups are great too. They are all a testament to how good a writer he is, how good an actor he can be and the skill he has at observation and highlighting the everyday qualities that make up each and everyone of us.
Unfortunately, Gervais seemed to believe his own press. He embraced Hollywood, becoming more of an actor than a writer, and produced some decent, watchable films but nothing as good as what he produced for British television. Even his film, Cemetary Junction, was decent but forgettable. Gervais was still making decent enough telly, I love anything he does with Karl Pilkington but in those series, Pilkington is the star, with Gervais playing the “bully.”
His return to British sitcom with Warwick Davis vehicle, Life’s Too Short, was good but not a classic. It felt too much like Extras but with Davis as a regular feature rather than a guest star. It wasn’t going to be the breakout sitcom that Derek is. Derek was a surprise, a tv show with little hype, appearing on Channel 4 one Thursday night, with one of the most brilliant pilots for any show in a long while.
Derek is a return to form for Gervais. The writing is fantastic, the characters are likable and believable and the series as whole is a perfect mix of humour and drama. It’s a show as good as The Office and its no coincidence because they share some of the key parts that make both series a success.
The character Gervais plays is again, the central focus of the show. Derek is a character with some form of mental disability that is never really explained but never needs to be. We view the show through his eyes, through his experiences and they are very naive, simple but kind and optimistic eyes. He sees the best in people, gives everyone a chance and manages to win almost everyone over. Derek is central to the show but never really central to the story.
Gervais plays him fantastically. He mental disability means Gervais has to shorten his neck, twist his face and walk in a huddled, awkward way. I can imagine it gets difficult and frustrating but it helps to transform Gervais into the character and it is a transformation. You won’t believe that Derek is played by the same actor who was David Brent.
It’s not just Gervais’ Derek that is a great character though. The whole show is full of fantastic characters, from the put-upon but inspirational Hannah, played by Kerry Godliman to the disgusting but very funny Kev played by David Earl. The best character in the show isn’t even Derek, it’s actually Dougie played by Karl Pilkington. It’s clear that Dougie was written for Pilkington, the characters and their views are not all that different, but there are great moments that do stretch the Manchester traveller. He gets the best lines, the best moments and on more than one occasion manages to save the day. Pilkington makes the show and adds almost all of the humour.
In fact, the show shouldn’t even be called Derek. It should be called Broadhill, named after the retirement home and its residents. Those residents are the characters that could very well have been background artists but are appreciated and given stories in their own right. It’s a show that has a vein of sadness running through it but it only works because of how well Gervais has integrated the residents of the retirement home into the sitcom.
Derek is fantastic television and it does mix that sadness with humour very ably. Unfortunately, I think its biggest fault is actually the character of Derek. Not the character itself or what he does in the show, but how aware the series makes you of his kindness. The final episode, as great a piece of television as it is, is all about how much everyone loves Derek and becomes much more of a “Derek Appreciation” episode, losing some of its realism.
It’s a small complaint that can be easily looked over. Derek is quality television and a return to form for Ricky Gervais. Derek is as good as The Office and could even be better!
Overall, Derek is a return to The Office and Extras level of quality for Gervais. It has great characters, brilliantly acted, with some believable and sometimes painfully sad stories. It always has that safety net of humour though, delivered most of all by the best character in the show, Dougie, played by Karl Pilkington. As long as Derek isn’t too much about Derek, this show should be a great success.
Best Episode – Pilot: The whole series is fantastic and it was a difficult choice but the pilot episode of Derek is close to perfect television.
Best performance – Karl Pilkington as Dougie
Should there be another season? – Definitely. This show has so much more to explore and offer. If it can be as well written and acted as it has this season, it could well become one of the best sitcoms on television.
Season Rating – 4.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)