Ricky Gervais has been answering the constant question regarding Derek- “is it a drama or a comedy?”- with the response “it is what you think it is- what’s your life like, a drama with funny bits in it, or a comedy with dramatic bits?”. To me, so far the series seems to be a very sweet, beautifully realised little drama with the odd bit of humour- this is not some backhanded compliment, if anything it’s real praise.
Tonight’s opener isn’t earth-shatteringly amazing, but it shouldn’t be. Gervais has a job of introducing the uninitiated to this intimate little world he has created. Nothing much happens, and there aren’t any truly heart-wrenching moments that will make you cry, or jokes that will make you howl with laughter, but that is the point- real life isn’t like that.
Something that Gervais has done brilliantly here is create the two beating hearts of the show- Kerry Godliman’s Hannah and, surprisingly, Karl Pilkington’s Dougie. I’ll get to Godliman in a minute, but let’s focus on Pilkington for a moment. I am a massive fan of the podcasts, An Idiot Abroad and everything else that Karl’s done. But I imagined I’d be laughing because Karl was Karl, and it might take me out of the show. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Casting Karl was not some self-indulgent act by Gervais, but an inspired piece of casting. Karl couldn’t be more genuine, and his end speech towards the nasty little councilman threatening to shut down the home is perfectly pitched. Dougie is a genuine surprise, and I never once thought “Ha! It’s Karl Pilkington!”, instead I believed and invested in this character he is portraying. Kerry Godliman is the best thing about the show so far- I strongly believe Gervais is at his best as an actor with a woman to work off of, be it Ashley Jensen, Tea Leoni or Jennifer Garner, and once again my theory has been proven right. I want to see so much more of Hannah.
I don’t just want to gush- I am a huge fan of everything Ricky has produced, be it solo or with Stephen Merchant, Pilkington and Warwick Davis- so I have to pick out some little niggling things. In this episode at least, Derek is not particularly a driving force (until a wonderful little moment at the end which I won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t seen it, but let me just say that it addresses something all the critics have aimed at the character thus far), and really just spouts rubbish about sharks and whales. David Earl’s Kev made me chuckle a few times, but at the moment he seems a little one-dimensional, the comic pratfall.
But I understand that you can’t cram everything into half an hour, so I feel these little criticisms of mine will be extinguished, as we still have the rest of the series for Derek and Kev to have their moments and become more fleshed out and fully realised, which I know they will be.
In short, nothing is false in the show, or emotionally manipulative. There’s nothing mocking about it, and I like the tone that has been set- this isn’t going to be a laugh-a-minute, and it’s not going to be schmaltzy nonsense.
In my eyes, and this is just first impressions, Derek is perhaps the most accomplished thing Gervais has done so far by himself. If it continues in this vein, and we get to meet more of the residents and develop the stories a little more- I have a feeling that the arc of the home facing closure will rear its ugly head again- this is going to become much-loved. The episode was spent finding its feet, being utterly charming and engrossing, and I know it’s just going to get better and better over the next 5 weeks.
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