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There is something about Ricky Gervais comedy that is brilliant but also something equally sadistic lurking there, perhaps that brilliance being able to keep that later element subtle and palatable enough for his target intelligent middle - class audience to accept it and so not have to admit what they are really laughing at. He tells us The Office was about the delusional and awkward world of David Brent, yet all the big laughs are those subtle race, homophobic and gender gags, which the middle-class would never admit to laughing at because of the working-class association and stigma. The difficult second album of 'Extras' had a variation of the theme and 'Life's Too Short' ending up just a simple tirade of midget and dwarf jokes to give Ricky, Stephan Merchant and his showbiz friends - and us - a license to guffaw at short people. But, hey I admit it, that thing he does of bravely sending up just about everyone is what makes me laugh and why I enjoy his stuff. For me, his biggest comic ability seems to be to create oddball characters able to deliver that ubiquitous to all offensive comedy, that taboo and truism what comedy is really all about.
And so cometh the comedy drama 'Derek', Ricky moving his attentions (no Stephen Merchant this time around) to the mentally slow (which he once mocked as 'mongs' on Twitter) and elderly minorities, the audience experiencing this hidden and grim existence through the eyes of a 49-year-old retarded guy called Derek (Gervais) and the old people's home he volunteers in. On Wikipedia, Gervais got in is punches first and has said that the programme was inspired by his relatives who work in care homes, saying, "Half my family are care workers. My sister works with kids with learning difficulties. My sister-in-law works in a care home for people with Alzheimer's. And four or five of my nieces work in old people's homes. I always write about what I know". He was clearly worried that he would be pre-judged for taking the pi** out of old and mentally subnormal folks. He claims the show is simply about people discarded from the margins.
It's filmed in his familiar faux mockumentary style and the old folks in the home a mix of actors and real old octogenarians for authenticity. But this is Ricky doing his method acting thing, which, to be fair, is very good stuff here, playing the double act alongside pseudo idiot 'Manc' Karl Pilkington, who plays the rest homes lugubrious handyman Dougie, and Derek's best friend. Its never made clear what Derek's disability is but we presume its some sort of autism and a low I.Q. mix, the long suffering rest home manager Hannah (Kerry Godliman) trying to keep them all in order. The other main character is a jobless bloke called 'Kev' (David Earl), who has made friends with Derek and hangs around the home being uncouth and drinking cans of Stella.
The idea of the show is to 'feel the love', especially towards old folks, the only emotion Derek knows, something that needs to catch on quickly as we read and hear horror story after horror story over their appalling treatment in the NHS and rest homes of our elderly folks. Derek doesn't have a bad bone in his body and loves everyone - black people, Asian people, fat people, gay people, you name it, a sinecure for all that's good in people. Maybe the character of Derek is Ricky's apology for all those disguised risky jokes in his sitcom and sneery stand up, an alter-ego. Maybe Ricky knows we are on to him?
Series one ran for six episodes after the pilot rated well last year, the concurrent theme that the in austerity times that council wants to make cuts and the home maybe closed down and the residents moved elsewhere. Ricky doesn't try to make any political points through the characters and show but we feel the sentiment.
It's funny in places but heart warming sentiment the hook here. Old people are always funny, especially when they are really old. Ricky wants you to love Derek and so love him, he the optimist, Dougie the gloom merchant. The acting is all very fine and Ricky's intense and physical performance suggesting he was chasing BAFTAS as well as a different audience for his obvious acting comic skills, this the exact opposite to his cynical and caustic signature comedy, anti sitcom if you like. But the Gervais Bell Curve, like Tarantino, is showing a down curve since his best work (The Office) and the bell beginning to clang louder, perhaps why he has taken a risk and branched out and away from what he does best here. But the show is indifferent and one to take or leave, the feeling that this only got commissioned by Channel Four as its mostly Ricky's money behind it. You can't turn down Ricky Gervais waving his cheque book, right?
The biggest problem for Ricky is he is chubby and ugly and women can't relate to him, why there seems to be that bitterness to his comedy towards those same women. If he was handsome he could spread his wings in Hollywood but aesthetically restricted and so reduced to playing the loser, rather well in The Invention of Lying. When he rails off against celebrity on stage and in his sitcoms you do feel its because he feels like however much success he has he will never be able to mix with the beautiful people, even though he was a svelte good looking lad in his youth when he played in that new romantic band. There is resentment there and like Bernard Manning, if you are fat and ugly then what have you got to lose? I think the two are very similar comics, even though they would never admit it. As Richard Nixon said when one of his aids put his portrait up on the wall next to JFK -"When people look at Kennedy they see what they want to be. When people look at me they see who they are".
= = = Cast = = =
Ricky Gervais ... Derek Noakes
Kerry Godliman ... Hannah
Karl Pilkington ... Dougie
David Earl ... Kev
Brett Goldstein ... Tom
Ruth Bratt ... Mary
Joan Linder ... Joan
Kay Noone ... Lizzie
Vilma Hollingbery ... Elsie
Tim Barlow ... Jack
Arthur Nightingale ... Arthur
= = = Critics = = =
The Guardian, dismiss Gervais's claims that in Derek he was satirizing prejudice against the disabled. It "feels more like lazy cruelty than satire".
Radio Times, Derek is un-cynically presented as a hero who is, in Gervais's words, "better than us" because he lacks ego and guile and merely wants to be nice. Those seeking to take offence at Gervais's portrayal of Derek will have to look hard".
Stephen Lee -'I imagined feral children trailing real Dereks around supermarkets, chanting 'Derek Derek', the new Joey Deacon.
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