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Ricky Gervais's 'Derek' review: Touching comedy or offensive error?

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The biggest problem that Ricky Gervais's new comedy pilot Derek has faced is preconceptions. Gervais remains a firmly divisive character. Some love him and lavish praise on everything he touches. Others fail to see the joke, branding him smug and a one-trick pony.

Derek brings with it even more baggage, following on from the ugly mong-gate incident that Gervais sparked on Twitter thanks to his regretful pastime of posting pictures of himself pulling the sorts of faces that would have been best left in 1980s children's playgrounds.

Ricky Gervais, Derek,


Gervais has denied that his new comic creation Derek Noakes has a disability, although his verbal tics, sticking out jaw and waddling walk would suggest to the average viewer otherwise.

Regardless of the actual facts behind Derek's character, it was certainly a risky move centring a comedy around a social outcast, a man happiest spending his days at an old people's home and watching Secret Millionaire and silly YouTube videos.

But Derek never laughs or pokes fun at its central character. There are a few physical gags and slapstick moments, but Derek is a warm creation and one you root for. Gervais proved that he could do tragedy, pathos and softness in The Office, but has steered clear from such areas ever since. If nothing else, Gervais should be applauded for stepping away from his comfort zone of mocking celebs, cringe laughs and egotistical characters.

A dabble into a murky area or an attempt at something different is a rare occurrence in British TV comedy. The revival of the classic sitcom format (Miranda, Not Going Out) and the continuing dominance of panel shows mean that anything slightly out of kilt with the mainstream is struggling to get commissioned.

Ricky Gervais's Derek Noakes teaser via Twitter

© Twitter



It's pleasing therefore that Gervais - a man who can get a new series on the air with the click of his fingers - is trying new avenues for his writing skills and comic sensibilities such as Sky1's An Idiot Abroad and now Derek.

The biggest issue with Derek appears not to be a matter of taste or political correctness. The relief that Gervais hasn't chosen to go headfirst down an unfortunate alleyway of nasty humour can't disguise the fact that there aren't actually that many laughs in the show.

Derek is an intriguing proposition without question, but much like Gervais's other recent comedy TV project - Life's Too Short - at present it feels like half a great idea. And like Life's Too Short, which appeared to make up for a lack of strength in the Warwick Davis character by shoe-horning in Gervais, Stephen Merchant and various Extras celebs, Derek manages to find a home for Gervais's comic buddy Karl Pilkington to cover up the gaps in the plot and holes in the humour department.

Pilkington is no actor by any stretch of the imagination, but alongside Kerry Godliman as care worker Hannah, he was one of the stronger parts of the pilot. Both will need to be utilised more if a full series gets the greenlight.



The scene where the previously soft-spoken and heartwarming Hannah headbutts a sniggering yobbo girl in the pub to defend Derek's honour had elements of David Brent's final "f**k off" to Finchy in The Office and appeared to be a knowing nod from Gervais to those who doubt his intentions with the project. The outcasts, oddballs and elderly are not the butt of the joke, we're just glimpsing into their world and witnessing the gentle humour within it.

Whether that's a strong enough premise to last an entire series remains to be seen. The pilot worked on its own, reaching a logical conclusion with Hannah starting a bumbling romance and Derek hitting the highs of a £10 scratchcard win and the lows of the death of one his closest friends in the care home.

If Gervais wants the show to return as he has suggested, he doesn't need to convince us anymore that the show isn't nasty and that the show is PC. But he does need to find a comedy hook that makes the show more than fuzzy sweet caricatures and spilt custard on trousers gags.

What did you think of Ricky Gervais's Derek? Are you excited about a potential full series? Did you find it offensive? Share your views below!

> Ricky Gervais: 'I am slowly writing full series of Derek'
> 'Derek': Ricky Gervais's new comedy - review

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