Despite a very shaky start where everything seemed set be very average- again following the revolting Kev, an underdeveloped Derek an and underused Dougie going on silly excursions- tonight’s episode of Derek was exactly what I’ve been hoping for the series. Despite not being particularly funny, this was the best episode so far, and emotionally satisfying.
First and foremost, I have gone completely off Kev- there is no point to him but just generally being dislikeable. Gervais would have been better off not including the character at all, and developing a much stronger family unit between Derek, Dougie and Hannah, and perhaps Tom and Vicky to an extent, with the residents providing further emotional heft, and comic relief.
Everyone who has passed through Broadhill’s doors has brought something to the show, be they volunteers or outsiders, but Kev is disgusting and one-dimensional, lacking in any kind of charm and not at all funny.
The one bum note in the episode was the frankly unnecessary joke involving Kev’s sexual activities with a rather large woman, which didn’t bring a smile to my face of make me chuckle, despite my usual inclination towards sick humour- it was just crude and seemed to have no punchline. Quite why “hand-pump after hand-pump after hand-pump after hand-pump” is meant to amuse people is beyond me. Gervais is better than this. At least Tom showed Kev up at the end, but it showed Tom in a good light and did not humiliate or embarrass Kev.
Gervais has used David Earl- who I’m sure is a good actor- before in Extras and Cemetery Junction where, surprise, he played a greasy creep. In both of those his appearance was brief and thus funny. But spinning out that stereotype as a fully-fledged lead character is the show’s only real downfall.
Finally, we saw some of the residents take centre stage. Arthur, by far my favourite resident so far, had a nice little moment where he saves Derek, who has called an ambulance to save a bird, from trouble with the authorities by claiming he was the one who called the ambulance. Margie was the heart of the show, but she and Arthur are really the only reisdents who have had a chance to shine. I want to see more of them, because they’re great if they were actually given any lines!
And what a relief that we saw a little development in Derek- it’s a shame we saw little of the opening situation where Derek tries to save a bird. But here he was beautifully childlike, and I started to notice all the wonderful little physical tics of Gervais’ performance. Derek was incredibly sweet, and this shone through because he wasn’t sidelined by stupid japes with Kev, and his dialogue with Dougie was not utterly stupid- the argument about a Frog from the jumble sale was genuinely very funny.
Derek and Dougie work well because Dougie is obviously very fond of Derek and very sympathetic towards him, so I never really laugh when Derek is asking Dougie “what would win out of AIDS and Rabies?”, because it feels quite forced. At the end, Derek shines through because of Hannah- her monologue regarding the death of Margie shows what a rare and beautiful soul Derek is, and when the spiteful Shelley insults Derek, Hannah has to be held back. Derek is a hero- I’ve always understood why Gervais thought so, but for the first time I genuinely believed it.
By far the best bit of the show was the romance (hmm…) between Kerry Godliman’s Hannah and Brett Goldstein’s Tom, who I hope to see more of, because he’s a thoroughly charming and likable presence. One again, Godliman has proved she is by the far greatest thing about Derek. The best moments in the show so far have been from her, and tonight was no exception. She keeps blowing off Tom on a date not because she is selfish or because she doesn’t like him, but because she cares so much for the residents.
When Tom and Hannah are by Margie’s bedside, and Margie is telling Tom to marry Hannah, is among the best writing Gervais has ever done. Whether it be merely performing, or writing Solo or with Stephen Merchant, Gervais is at his best when writing for or acting with women, and dealing with understated, truthful relationships. Like The Office, it is the romance that is keeping me compelled, moved and interested in the show as a whole. And speaking of emotional moments, when Margie gives Tom her ring in order to propose to Hannah because Tom can’t afford a ring, it break my heart and I got a lump in my throat.
I only wish we had seen more of Dougie, and when we do see him, that he isn’t consigned to being the straight man- I never thought I’d type that sentence in regards to Karl Pilkington. Dougie is at his best at the end, when he flies into a rage at the foul Shelley and her husband. Like Hannah, he shows that he cares so much for the residents, and Pilkington’s naturalistic performance is a joy to watch every week.
Once again, this was by no means a perfect episode, and very rough around the edges- but it is this that defines the show, and is ingrained into the charm of it. But I see no positives to the character of Kev. The only way my mind will be changed at this halfway point is if Gervais’ script an Earls’ performance turn the perception of Kev completely on its head and he is either shown as vulnerable, or three-dimensional, or gets a moment where he can be the hero.
It is the only part of the series so far that I am truly dissatisfied with. But apart from that, I’m finally falling in love with Derek instead of just admiring him. I think my theory that one will be greatly rewarded if one sticks with the whole series is being proven correct. Tonight’s episode was touching, heartwarming and a total delight once Kev was out the way.
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