DEREK: Thursday 12th April, 10pm, Channel 4
One would be forgiven for approaching any new Ricky Gervais project with a certain air of trepidation. The trailers for Derek revealed a particularly âspecialâ? looking individual whose jutting lower jaw and insane shuffle put one in mind of That Guy Who Hangs Around The Co-Op. It looked suspiciously as though we would be invited to laugh unashamedly at Derekâs weirdness.
And itâs not as if Gervais has a good track record with on-screen portrayals of the disabled with which to comfort ourselves.
But if we can cast ‘mong-gateâ and the dwarf-in-a-bin aside, this bittersweet sitcom represents a surprisingly successful attempt to shed the shackles of his previous approach to stereotype-challenging.
Derek is a man who evidently has learning difficulties of some kind (though Gervais vehemently denies he is disabled, and no âfictional doctor can come along and prove me wrongâ?). He works in a care home where he is as much protected from the outside world as the elderly folk he cares for with such intensity. He sits down to dine with the residents, welcomes the loving care of head care worker Hannah â played superbly with Kerry Godliman â and looks forward to his daily instalment of Noel Edmondsâ box opening contest.
But despite Gervaisâ best efforts to re-cast himself in the eyes of the PC brigade, the finished product is far from flawless. And this is no beginning-to-end LOLathon. In fact, the weakest moments of the half hour special are the points where Gervais goes straight for the funny bone. Derekâs flopping about in a pond and custard mishap are some genuine low points which threaten to undermine the quality of the show; they smack of a Gervais who lost his nerve halfway through the writing process.
Instead, Gervaisâ strength as an auteur shines through in some of the most bittersweet moments; those which smack of the sentiment in the final Office scene. Derekâs brutal honesty and simple charm are not the subject of ridicule here and there is no Brent-ish veil through which Derek views himself â no ticket to laugh at his mere existence. Karl Pilkingtonâs appearance, be-wigged and feigning serious thespianism , is the red pill to Derekâs blissfully ignorant blue. His dreary bluntness is not a far cry from the Idiot Abroad character some of us have come to love â others to throw darts at. Fans of the bald-headed goon will not be disappointed.
But Gervais has undoubtedly opened the flood gates here. By writing, directing and starring in the show â he has once again aligned himself to a potentially inflammatory perspective on the less abled amongst us. With all of the control he was awarded over the show, perhaps casting someone else in the leading role could have rid the show of Gervaisâ Daily Mail baggage and allowed the quality of the finer parts of the show to speak for themselves.