‘Derek’ – That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
Ricky Gervais’ ‘Derek’, Channel 4, 10pm, Thursday 12th April
Comedian Stewart Lee recently said that he hoped “Ricky Gervais didn’t do something so awful as to undo ”ËThe Office’”Â. It seems that with latest effort ”ËDerek’, Gervais may well have just achieved that. ”ËDerek’, a one-off special for Channel 4 starring Gervais as a disabled care worker, could have been the perfect riposte to the more Daily Mail-style critiques of his comedy. As with ”ËLife’s Too Short’, it was an uneasy misfire. I was with huge admiration for Gervais’ repeated assertions that ”Ëjust because someone is offended it doesn’t mean they’re right’, but this would be a far more resonant point if being offensive was the strongest accusation one could level at Gervais’ recent work. Indeed, the greatest crime Ricky Gervais seems to be committing with ”ËDerek’ and ”ËLife’s Too Short’ is being lazy and boring.
The big laughs of ”ËDerek’ were aimed dubiously low. The hunched title character sitting on a crumble and custard was cheap but falling into a pond and running naked through the elderly care home was toe curlingly embarrassing for all the wrong reasons. For fans of ”ËExtras’, Gervais’ Derek felt achingly too much like Mr. Stokes ”â Gervais’ parody of the lazy, gimmicky funny-voice atrocities of catchphrase comedy. The same lazy scriptwriting that left ”ËLife’s Too Short’ stuck in a cheap hinterland between a mockumentary and a sitcom punctuated by jaded celebrity cameos was constantly present within ”ËDerek’. However, the show was not without its high points; Karl Pilkington’s acting debut was suspiciously good with his deadpan delivery adding much needed texture, and though much of the sentimentality felt like a forced emulation of what made ”Ëthe Office’ so special, it was a step in the right direction and aimed for a warmth somewhat absent from modern comedy. it’s hard to attain the genuine emotion and empathy aimed for in ‘Derek’ when the characters feel too lazily arranged and unrealistic.
In the five years since the ”ËExtras’ finale it’s difficult to find many fingerprints of the careful yet daring genius that was previously the hallmark of his talent. Gervais alienating newspaper critics is frankly of little relevance, but alienating those for whom ”Ëthe Office’ and ”ËExtras’ were beacons of dangerous brilliance are another. When asked how it felt to be written off as irrelevant, Noel Coward once said “Well, in the first place, nobody of particular importance wrote me off.”Â Whilst Gervais may take this attitude about many of his critics, it may soon be the case that it’s his own fan base that write him off more crucially than his critics.