Review: Ricky Gervais's 'Derek'

Negative reviews of 'Derek' are of the same brand of vitriolic nonsense that greet anything Martin Amis publishes, or Gervais writes. It's brilliant; watch it

by Joseph Power on 20 February 2013 16:50

I had the pleasure of viewing the pilot and the first three episodes of “Derek” this morning. Gervais himself said that: “For me, personally, it's my favourite thing I've ever created or worked on. I love Derek more than any other character. In fact, I wish I were more like him.”

Set in an old people’s home, the gunpowder was laid with the protagonist. Derek is an awkward, hunching character, with a jutting jaw and the same mannerisms as his ‘autograph hunter’ routine from his stand-up shows. After the release of the pilot episode last year, a boring so-called controversy swelled in cyberspace and on the pages of numerous publications.

Tanya Gold wrote in The Guardian that, “Derek, whom Gervais plays, or rather mugs, with clawed hands, greasy hair and a sort of rolling Frankenstein's monster's gait, is clearly loitering somewhere on the autism spectrum”. After berating his Life’s Too Short, Gold writes, “I am losing patience with this argument, which feels more like lazy cruelty than satire. If Gervais were really concerned with the abuse the disabled suffer, there are many things he could do. Instead, he feeds bigots their lines.”

Oh, and there was this gem: “Gervais mentions autograph hunters in his stand-up routine as well. Derek is an autograph hunter”. No, Derek’s friend is an autograph hunter, but nice try.

Far from being a mockery of the mentally disabled, Derek is one of the freshest, most emotionally touching things I’ve watched in a while. Karl Pilkington shocked critics and fans alike for his portrayal of “Dougie”, the resident handyman.

The home is occasionally ruffled by prodding outsiders: the council, who attempted to shut down the home in the first episode; vile children who sit with quiet reverence, awaiting the death of their parents (and their possessions). Pilkington has some beautiful rants to disarm these intruders. It certainly riled up the “Pilkington is a secret actor, An Idiot Abroad was scripted!” crowd.

Derek is a none-too-bright, awkward, but completely caring and genuine character. Gervais insists that Derek isn’t mentally handicapped, and when quizzed about possible autism by an aforementioned council officer, asks that if he is, “does that change who I am?”

“Then don’t worry about it.” Derek replies, before walking away.

Kerry Godliman is phenomenal as “Hannah”, the madam in charge of the home. Gervais re-wrote her as a far more prominent character after the pilot, something the show benefits greatly from. She plays the role of the hardworking carer, misunderstood by the outside world (particularly by a romantic antagonist) and ferociously protective of her residents.

All in all, the negative reviews I’ve seen are of the same brand of vitriolic nonsense that greet anything Martin Amis publishes, or Gervais writes: a bunch of “critics” sunk in their own mediocrity, writing pathetic reviews that seem more directed at Gervais than his work.

Funnily enough, people in the comment sections who’ve actually worked in old people’s homes have a completely different reaction to Derek.

I loved “Derek”; some people may not. It’s certainly far different than The Office or Extras, but that shouldn’t automatically influence people’s judgements. It’s an independent work of art, not a “series three”. 

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