When Ricky Gervais debuted his old folk’s home based comedy drama Derek on Channel 4 last year there was controversy surrounding Gervais’ lead performance as the seemingly mentally-handicapped character. While Gervais claimed that Derek was basically a simple soul in the vein of Frank Spencer or Father Dougal there were certainly some elements of autism both in his mannerisms and his dialogue. Indeed Gervais’ performance seemed to dominate reviews of what I found to be a sweet-natured and well-observed pilot episode that had a lot going for it and, due in part to the high ratings; it has been rewarded with a full series.
We return again to the home for the elderly where Gervais’ Derek Noakes introduces us to his ‘favouritest people’ namely the care home’s manager Hannah and its caretaker Dougie played respectively by Kerry Godliman and Karl Pilkington. This first episode of the new series sees the council descend on the care home in order to evaluate the costs of the place and decide whether or not to close it down. Indeed Roger from the council has arrived with the intention of rehousing the twenty or so residents to one of the bigger units however Hannah is adamant that this won’t happen. Roger’s tour round the home isn’t the smoothest of rides especially after he first encounters Derek but also when he meets Mick the ex-con dinner lady who is working at the home as part of his community service. Meanwhile it is Dougie who is the most nervous to meet the council as he realises that they’re just there to find problems and he quarrels with Roger about how easy it is to fix a toaster. However the final straw of the visit is when Roger finds Dougie’s friend Kev asleep in one of the beds in the home especially seeing as he is naked.
The second part of the episode focuses on the characters’ attempt to keep the home open as Dougie, Kev and Derek take to the streets with a petition however they fail to get any signatures due to Derek’s nervous nature and Kev’s attempts at hitting on every woman he sees. Meanwhile back at the home the local animal rescue centre arrive with pets for the residents to sit with and Hannah decides to stay at the home overnight so the old folk get to have their favourite animals with them the next day. As expected Roger’s findings are that the home will have to shut however Hannah decides that somehow the home will be funded independently while Dougie kicks Roger out of the home and insults him in the process resulting in him receiving a round of applause from the staff and residents.
As I mentioned at the start of the review there are some really well-observed moments in Derek however these are almost over-shadowed in a way due to the problems with the overall tone of the programme. Take for example the very topical storyline with the council who need to make cuts as their overall budget has been slashed and from a financial perspective it makes more sense to rehouse the residents. Gervais’ script makes a point about these people being human rather than just statistics while Hannah’s speech about most care home residents dying after being re-housed is very sincere as are her words about what it means to be a carer. However at the same time the story is presented as extremely black and white as Roger is the villain of the piece while the care home staff are the plucky residents. To be fair I think he was quite within his rights to mark the home down when he found a naked man asleep in one of the beds while his reservations about an ex-con working in the kitchens are also fairly reasonable. Dougie’s final confrontation with Roger was also a bit over the top especially as it was followed by a slow hand-clap moment that appeared to have been lifted from a feel good Hollywood film.
Again the other issue is the character of Derek himself who has been demoted slightly from a lead role in the pilot to part of an ensemble in the series. As well as giving himself a smaller role Gervais has, for now at least, removed the elements of slapstick that were present in the pilot as there are no scenes here where Derek falls in a pond or sits on a pudding. At the end of the day though Derek is still the name of the series and he acts as narrator throughout giving his simple views on the world and acting in a childlike manner. Gervais has made no effort to alter his performance in any way and I feel that once again this will be met with criticism by those feeling he’s mocking the mentally-handicapped. In fact the issue of Derek’s mental health is bought up in a scene with Roger as he asks if Derek has ever been tested for autism however this matter is later brushed under the carpet when Roger is chucked out of the home. Personally I feel that Gervais should’ve taken a back seat in Derek and not played the titular role instead letting an unknown actor play Derek while he either took on a smaller part or just stayed behind the scenes as the writer of the piece. It’s a shame that Gervais’ performance tarnishes Derek as the other actors are all brilliant namely Godliman who steals the show as the almost saint-like Hannah who actually knows what it means to be a proper carer. Pilkington is once again on form as Dougie the straight-talking handyman who realises that life has passed him by and has simply accepted that he has a go-nowhere existence. Both Dougie and Hannah are very realistic characters but again they are balanced against Derek and Kev who both come off more as caricatures than real people. Derek is also a well-shot piece with the bleak elements well-captured especially when focusing on the expressions of the elderly residents.
Overall I feel there is much to like about Derek mainly due to the well-observed characters of Dougie and Hannah and the performances of Pilkington and Godliman. Gervais’ script does have tonal issues however I feel in this opening episode there are more hits than misses. Again though the main issue is Gervais’ turn as Derek and I feel as if he’d just acted as writer for the programme there would be fewer problems and ultimately Derek would be celebrated as the likeable well-drawn comedy drama that it deserves to be.
What did you think of Derek? Do you feel that Gervais’ performance overshadows the other elements of the programme? Leave Your Comments Below.