Why I’m Done With Derek


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:

[flashvideo file=wp-content/uploads/Derek.flv /]

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.

Laughs in the Park 2011

On Sunday I ventured out of the safety of London to the wilderness of St Albans to attend the second annual Laughs in the Park. The event is touted as the Woodstock of comedy, and is headed in the right direction now that a second stage, BBC Comedy Presents, has been added to showcase new talent before the main show began. Sitting on the grass in the sun, sipping a cider and watching a range of comedic styles it was easy to imagine the event growing over the years, with stages dedicated to different comedy styles, maybe one with a dedicated open mic, and a huge camp site filled with comedy fans. With Izzard involved anything is possible.

Liam Williams
liam williamsWilliams was an odd choice to open up the BBC Comedy Presents Stage, with a deliberately awkward style that clashed with the vibrant atmosphere demanded by outdoor comedy. Everyone was a little too relaxed to get behind an equally relaxed performance. Not without his moments Williams may have been better received with a more thoroughly warmed up crowd.

Adam Riches
Easily the highlight of the smaller stage Riches bounded on with enough energy to engage the hot and apathetic crowd, without even making it on-stage for the majority of his act. Declaring himself to be Daniel Day-Lewis, Riches launched into a lesson on smacting (acting with a smoke machine) which left our little group in stitches. For once an act relying on audience participation didn’t ask anyone what their job was. If Adam Riches does a gig near me, I’m there.

Alex Horne
You may recognise him from We Need Answers on BBC Four… but probably not, it’s on BBC Four. Horne gave a deliberately lacklustre performance lacking more lustre than Williams. After the joy of Riches it was a little deflating, and as before comedy which might work in a club in the evening fell flat, out in the fields of St Albans. Nice to see a variety of comedy styles, though understandably there will be a few misses.

Kerry Godliman
Bringing a more upbeat and sunny vibe back to the stage Godliman was warmly received. Not necessarily ground-breaking in her comedy style but by this point we were grateful to have someone giving us actual jokes to laugh at. Her upbeat attitude and simple, funny style was perfect for a crowd lounging in the sun.

Angelos Epithemiou

Renton Skinner brings his character from Shooting Stars to the stage in a decidedly awkward routine. Most of the audience didn’t really know how to take his bumbling, possibly mentally challenged persona as he worked his way through a handful of jokes, a trick or two and showed us what was in his bag before stripping down to a lycra body suit. I’m a fan of his awkward comedy but it wasn’t hard to notice that not everyone stayed to see him through to the end.

Jarred Christmas
Holding the two hours on the BBC Comedy Presents Stage together was Christmas, a joyous Kiwi comedian with so much enthusiasm he could pick up the audience after the flattest of performances. I’ve only ever seen Christmas MC-ing event but would love to see him do a full set someday soon. I’ve never laughed so much at repeated references to brioche, perfect for a bunch of middle class people in a field drinking Pimms and cider.

Tommy Tiernan
A big name comic in his native Ireland, Tiernan is relatively unknown in England but that could be about to change. Tiernan was a revelation, a foul-mouthed, controversial and surprisingly energetic revelation. With graphic references to sex, Downs syndrome and religion Tiernan practically shouted his routine while pulling a bizarre array of shapes. Tiernan has the confidence of a seasoned performer but the unfamiliar edge of a new talent. He’s welcome back any time.

Eddie Izzard
Izzard was on top form performing a shortened version of his Stripped tour, the DVD of which I had mistakenly watched the night before. Having performed the same material at last years show it would have been nice to hear something new but with Izzard it doesn’t matter how often to hear his jokes they never fail to make my face ache from laughing too much. The sun having set and cold setting in, the crowd could not have been more delighted by Izzard’s set as we all laughed and cheered raucously, for the majority the familiarity of the material only helped the enjoyment though a few grumbles could be heard.

Ross Noble
MC-ing on the main stage it was a surprise that Noble didn’t get a full set of his own so thankfully he prolonged his interstitial sessions on-stage and a pre-show double act with Izzard was a personal highlight. Before seeing him live I was a Ross Noble sceptic but his energy and enthusiasm was irresistible. Hopefully if he returns in later years he’ll be allowed to perform a full set as Noble is a real talent.

Laughs in the Park 2011 was a great day out and I whole-heartedly recommend you all go next year. We got over 5 hours of comedy outdoors on a gorgeous day, all topped off with fireworks. Beautiful.

Footage from the weekend will be shown on the BBC at some point. How’s that for journalism?