I’ve given it four weeks now and I’ve finally had enough of Derek.
Ricky Gervais’ fourth sitcom centres around a care home for the elderly and the people who work in it, namely Derek (Gervais), Dougie (Karl Pilkington), and Hannah (Kerry Godliman). The show has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism largely due to Gervais’ portrayal of Derek as a man with low intelligence, poor social skills, and lack of inhibitions. Many say that Gervais is playing a man with autism and in doing so is encouraging people to laugh at the mentally handicapped. Gervais refuses to diagnose Derek as autistic and sees Derek as a hero rather than as a figure of fun.
Mocking the disabled or not, this is not why I don’t like Derek.
Derek is billed as a comedy-drama, at least by Wikipedia, but for me it doesn’t fulfil the basic requirements for either genre. Drama requires some level of conflict or struggle and while Derek features the occasional rude visitor to the home this only provides minor friction and the occasional raised voice. On the comedy side there are the occasional funny lines but they’re much more LOL than genuine laugh out loud funny. The term comedy-drama seems to be an excuse to make a weak drama mixed with an unfunny comedy; a show than meanders through its half hour with no direction.
Funny or not, this is not why I don’t like Derek.
Where Derek really falls down for me is in how much it reveres its own characters. Not an episode goes by without one character spontaneously singing the praises of another. It is not enough for us to see Derek as a kind-hearted soul for ourselves, instead the show feels the need to have Hannah give us a brief monologue explaining just how wonderful he is and how much better he is than most people. There’s a real sense of smug self-worth about this as if just making the characters nice and selfless makes the show worthwhile in and of itself. It is also a cheat to keep the characters seemingly humble as they heap praise on one another as at the end of the day this is Ricky Gervais saying how wonderful a Ricky Gervais character is.
The clip below is taken from last week’s show, episode 4, and it is indicative of the self-reverential tone Derek takes when it comes to its characters:
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For over a minute the show descends into an ode to a single character followed by a montage of Hannah looking sad and working hard accompanied by Coldplay of all things. The technique is heavy-handed, awkward, and should be totally unnecessary in any show where the characters are fully fleshed out and accurately portrayed. It is a classic piece of advice in writing and directing to “show, don’t tell” and Gervais could do with taking this on board. If you want us to think that Hannah and Derek are the best people in the world ever demonstrate this to us so the characters aren’t forced to stop the plot to explain it.
I loved The Office and Extras but Derek simply isn’t good enough and spends so much time admiring its own reflection that I can’t bear to watch it any longer. UK TV comedy is going through a bit of a resurgence of late with shows like Moone Boy, Fresh Meat, Him and Her, and Friday Night Dinner so there’s no need to put up with such a mediocre show.