Why I’m Done With Derek

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.

Ricky Gervais Live IV Science – DVD Review

Let me set the scene here so this doesn’t come off as a Ricky Gervais bashing post; I enjoyed The Office, Extras, Cemetery Junction and his first two stand-ups. I though Fame was lazy and a bit dull though and while Science is an improvement, it’s still a bit haphazard.

For a start the title didn’t really relate to any of the material, a small niggle but an indication of the lack of effort put into the material. The majority of the performance was made up of his own self-praise, trying to solve fat people and the mocking of the story of Noah which Eddie Izzard did so much better.

I’m not saying I didn’t laugh, Gervais did have some good material in there but it was far too casual an affair. There was a lot of him saying offensive things then saying “I’m joking” and defending himself against anyone who might have been offended. Only no one was, they were all laughing making Gervais look mildy schizophrenic as he argued with no one onstage.

The DVD extras include a brief “documentary” of Ricky Gervais in New York and two lengthy clip with Karl Pilkington which were much better than the stand-up.

If you’re not put off, Ricky Gervais Live IV – Science is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.

Cemetery Junction – Review

Cemetery Junction is a bit of an odd bird and I’m not quite sure how to review it. Genre-wise it is definitely a mix between comedy and drama, the comedy elements providing a welcome release from the occasionally bleak themes in the film.

Cemetery Junction looks down on everyday small town life and the small cruelties within families while inspiring escapism and the desire for getting something more out of life. It does so with some truly affecting moments and is interspersed with moments of real laugh out loud delight. The film is Gervais light, though perhaps not light enough as some of the dialogue is jarringly Ricky-esque and his character’s few brief appearances didn’t sit well with the rest of the film.

Though its story is a simple one I enjoyed watching it unfold; the film felt warm and real. The lead, Christian Cooke, easily draws you in with the silent horror he feels at the world he lives in and the soundtrack made me instantly nostalgic for a time I never lived in. In fact Cooke really impressed, especially for someone whose CV so far includes Echo Beach, Demons and Trinity, all bad ITV shows.

Cemetery Junction is certainly not a high concept film and doesn’t take you anywhere you wouldn’t expect but is an enjoyable experience and different to most modern British films. Instead it had the scent of older UK cinema and I can’t help but imagine that it would have starred a young Michael Cane if made at the time it was set.

Ultimately I think I could happily watch Cemetery Junction again, and not just to see the lovely Felicity Jones once more.

Cemetery Junction Clip

Yesterday Empire debuted an exclusive clip from the upcoming Cemetery Junction. Sadly the sound was not working on the clip, even though it was working fine on the advert. Priorities people!

Anyway I am looking forward to this film as it promises to have a good bit of Felicity Jones who is featured in the clip along with Christian Cooke. The clip is nothing special though it gives a good indication as to just how comedic the film is going to be, this scene being one of relationship talk.

Fingers crossed the video is embedded below complete with an advert courtesy of Empire and an introduction from the writer/directors Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. If it’s not working Empire have it here.

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/1858324737?isVid=1&publisherID=494806221

Cemetery Junction is released on 14th April 2010