The only joke in Derek is Gervais

Amy Gledhill isn't impressed

Oh dear. What was that? Have we witnessed a mental breakdown? Is this a cry for help? Perhaps it's a big ol’ post-modern meta satire on the state of originality, talent and craft found in the current British sitcom. It could be a shoebox full of shit on my own doorstep and it would make me less angry. Apparently, Derek is a genuine attempt at a quality programme.

The shock I am experiencing refers to the overall product and not just Gervais's two dimensional, cheap portrayal of a 'character' who may or may not have some form of metal disability. I am usually the last person to jump on any sensationalist, tutting bandwagon of outrage but this is a rare occasion when I can empathise with people who found his desperate and clumsy characterisation offensive.

I believe that there are no topics, themes or events that are off limits to comedy, but certain elements must be treated with respect. Mentally or physically challenged characters should be extensively researched and played by a skilled actor with the sensitivity and sensibility to give a truthful and dutiful performance. Gervais’s portrayal carries all the subtly of a prolonged Frankie Boyle joke, performed by Bernard Manning over a PA system in Hull bus station.

Initially, I felt a sense of confusion and a dribble of excitement as I clung to the hope that Gervais was back from the ashes and the opening minutes of Derek were merely an elaborate but genius set up for something new, exciting and thoughtful.

’…There will be a reveal in a second… It’ll cut to him in a board meeting with a team of commissioning editors and they will all be throwing their heads back and laughing at how ludicrous this pilot is. 'We would never produce that!' They will guffaw! Har. Har. Har.’

There is no reveal. No pullback. There is just an inconceivably weak script and a lot of sad-faced piano music. This Oxfam advert soundtrack fails to initiate an emotional connection with the selfless, hardworking, lonely characters because they are just too unbelievable.

Kerry Godliman, the poor actress playing the main female role bares the brunt of the bland, over-sentimental script. We hear how she can’t find a man because she devotes all her time to helping others. Then, just minutes after this tale, our heartstrings are supposedly fiddled with, she promptly nuts a stranger in a pub while the diegetic Eminem song suddenly crescendos and bam! For a split second we are in a Guy Ritchie movie.

This isn’t as funny as it sounds and apart from it being hideously out of character it feels like such a tacky way to achieve a laugh. (All the while Gervais is doing his ‘disabled face’ at the camera, which is a deeply insulting, carbon copy of Ray from Extras.)

What is it Gervais? Is it a heart wrenching subtle comedy or is it a broader than broad farce? From this pilot episode, I think neither. I think it’s a massive pile of steaming dung.

The nauseating soundtrack is still swimming around my head. I feel sick. I feel cheated. But I do *feel*…and maybe that is the point. Maybe art that evokes no emotion at all is worse than art that stirs all these feelings and perhaps this level of passion is a sign that it is communicating and reaching out on some level... Nah. It’s just bad TV.

Watching Derek is like watching a particularly bad episode of Coronation Street, without the sense of humour, whilst feeling the same frustration as watching the '86 England Vs Argentina game and seeing Maradona's famous Hand of God moment, knowing everyone watching at home knows exactly what is going on but the people closest can't see for looking.

I'd rather watch When The Whistle Blows.

Published: 14 Apr 2012

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