Tag Archives: Derek

Derek, season 2

Ricky Gervais as DerekRicky Gervais returned for a second season of Derek on Channel 4 in the UK, and on Netflix in the US. As with the first season, the show focuses on an elderly home, its workers, and its residents.  Derek, played by Gervais, is a slow, but kind-hearted.  The whole point of the show is that being kind is better than being smart, and that it will make you happier than money or accomplishment.  So our heroes and heroines are humble people. Derek, and especially Hannah, who runs the nursing home.

slide_277704_2042720_freeOne big absence this season is Karl Pilkington’s Dougie, who was my favorite part of season one.

Dougie-setups-083_A2Ricky Gervais said that acting made Karl way too nervous, and Karl has admitted he really disliked it.  Compared to An Idiot Abroad, where he traveled and saw new things, he did not enjoy sitting in a small trailer in Uxbridge between scenes.  Understandable.  I don’t even know where Uxbridge is, but I don’t think I’d fancy spending time in a trailer there.

Taking up a larger chunk of time, to make up for Dougie’s absence, is Kev.  The foul-mouthed slob accepted at the nursing home because he makes Derek laugh.  I have to wonder why Derek gets nearly whatever he wants in life. Kev, in season one, is pretty awful. With Dougie gone in season 2, he is slowly and haltingly redeemed.  Not all the way to normalcy, but to a place where we can hope good things happen to him.

Here’s the problem with Derek.  The world it presents is just too simple.  Everyone is too good.  For me, since I’m an emotional and optimistic person, this isn’t such a big deal.  It doesn’t bother me too much while I’m watching the show, but afterwards it gnaws at me when I think back. Because even if everyone were inherently good, all the different ways people think they are doing ‘good’ means there will always be opposition to one thing in favor of another. There will always be conflict.

So the show is unrealistic, to the point of being hard to swallow.  I cry in every episode.

But one episode nearly killed me, after what I went through earlier this year.

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In one episode, Ivor the dog has to be put down. He’s quite old and very sick, so it’s not as tragic as it might be.  But, the subject matter hit so close to home that we (my bf and I) had to stop the show and weep for a good 10 minutes before we could continue. I’m crying a little just thinking about it. So I can’t be too cynical about this show, because there are moments in life that bring out true and unadulterated emotions, and Derek is good about showing these moments. Since most TV shows don’t give death much weight at all, it’s good to have a counterpoint. Something uncynical.  It’s too simple, but I’d rather watch a show that is too simple and promotes kindness and unmaterialistic goodness, than watch a show that is too simple and promotes violence, tawdry affairs, and materialistic bullshit.

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TV review: Derek with Ricky Gervais

Derek series posterRicky Gervais’ new series, Derek, just finished its first season in the UK.  It will be airing exclusively on Netflix in the US later this year (no premier date yet).  It’s only six episodes, but a second season in the UK has already been announced.

There was a lot of controversy before the show started, when it got out that Ricky was playing a man who seemed to be mentally disabled.  I think most of the controversy dried up when people actually saw the show. I don’t think it’s offensive at all–it might even be a bit too safe.

The show features Ricky as the eponymous Derek, possibly the nicest man in the world.  If there is one thing this show is about, it’s about valuing kindness over all other traits.  Derek cares about everyone and every living creature, and the show illustrates how much more valuable that is than qualities like intelligence, material success, A level scores, etc.  Derek works in a nursing home; it’s his whole life.  I can’t tell you what he does exactly (in terms of a job). It seems like he is more of a companion to the residents, and he’s very good at that.  He genuinely cares about all of them.

His best friend is Hannah,

hannahwho runs the nursing home.  She is one of those women who takes care of everyone and doesn’t have much of a life on her own. She puts all of her energy into her job and truly wants to take care of all of the people who live in and work at the home.  She makes me, honestly and truly, feel like a pretty terrible person by comparison.

To make me feel better, there is Karl Pilkington (and a hilarious wig) as Dougie.

slide_277704_2042719_freeDougie is the handyman in the nursing home.  He’s not as kind as Hannah or Derek–he is more willing to say what is on his mind and more likely to be irritated by other people.  Who knew Karl could act? He’s actually really good!  Now, there are a lot of similarities between him and his character.  In my preview of this series, I noted these similarities:

He complains a lot, likes to fix things, doesn’t know why he’s friends with Ricky.  Check, check, check.

And I stand by that post.  He’s very similar to what I know of him through An Idiot Abroad and The Ricky Gervais Show–though all of these shows give us Karl through Ricky’s eyes (and editing skills), so I wouldn’t presume to actually know him.  At any rate, Dougie is perpetually annoyed, but his annoyance is geared toward people who truly deserve it.  One high point of the series is when Dougie throws out the money-grubbing daughter of a woman who has just died, because she is a heinous person only concerned with getting her mother’s things now that she’s gone.  Dougie is my hero in that episode.

There’s also Kev

derek_kev_2Derek’s friend and the least likeable of the main characters.  He is sex-obsessed, crass, and generally unliked, but his friendship with Derek and the clear evidence that he is full of shit make the audience realize that he isn’t all bad.  If he was an asshole in the exact same way and also handsome/successful, then he would be unforgivable.  The fact that he is horribly unsuccessful in life and with women make his boasts and pronouncements less offensive and more sad.

In the background there are a litany of secondary characters from the fringes of life.  There are chavvy teenagers, assigned to do community service at the nursing home, the heinous people from the city council threatening to shut the place down, and of course the residents themselves.  I kind of love Derek for the simple fact that it shows people we don’t normally see on TV.  For how many hours of super fancy people on Selling New York or The Bachelor or Real Housewives of Whichever City, you’re only likely to see a regular person on shows like Hoarders or My Strange Addiction.  It’s lovely to see people represented on TV that normally wouldn’t be, and I hope it gives everyone a greater respect for older people, even though the show is inherently more rose-colored than reality must be.

Let me start with a warning about this show.  I cried during every single episode.  It is emotional; it is schmaltzy.  Some critics think the emotion has gone too far, into the realm of absolute sentimental tripe.  I think there are arguments for that.  After all, you never seem too controversial by showing how great it would be if everyone was kind to one another.  On the other hand, very few of us have the capacity to be as kind and as selfless as Hannah and Derek.  There are, undoubtedly, people who work in a caretaker capacity that are just like them.  But there are also people who take advantage of their situation to do horrible things, and there are people who become burnt out by what they are seeing on a day-to-day basis and become apathetic or cold-hearted as a result.  Derek portrays a world free from those types.  There are your occasional villains who come in (like the couple mentioned above, visiting only to get a hold of a family ring), but they leave.  Everyone there is forgivable and forgiving, and cares about the residents in their care.  I don’t know how accurate that is.

The show is genuinely funny, but you’re more likely to spend your time crying than laughing.

The show is very clearly a Ricky Gervais project, but at the same time it is quite different.  No matter how crass and unlikeable Ricky can be when he is confronting the world as himself (I have a coworker that loathes him completely), his works always have a good heart and good people behind them.  In The Office, Tim and Dawn are the heart of the show, but by the end of the run you do truly care for David Brent and for Gareth.  The only real villain of the piece is Chris Finch, and we see him put firmly in his place during the special (my favorite moment ever).  In Extras and Life’s Too Short, you see an egotistical, foolish, deeply flawed, very negative main character, but the show always makes clear that these traits are not rewarding.  In the end, these characters focus their energy on their personal relationships and not on the success they so long for.  That same sense of good and kindness is the main centerpiece of Derek, but Derek approaches it in a different way.  It’s there from the absolute beginning, as the prevailing quality of the main character.

It is schmaltzy, and it is sensationalist (to use the old definition of causing sensations), but it is cathartic to see and experience what life might be like if we were all a little less smart and a little more kind. It made me cry to the point of extreme discomfort on more than one occasion (especially the finale), but it did feel good afterward.  I really enjoyed the show and will definitely be watching the second season.

Ricky as Derek with dogs

Ricky Gervais news

Yesterday, Ricky came out with some news that I’m honestly not thrilled about.  He’s said, on his blog, that he doesn’t plan to continue with the Ricky Gervais Show, Life’s Too Short or with An Idiot Abroad after this year.

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, as this past year was the first time he ever did any project that lasted beyond two seasons and a Christmas special.  As for the Ricky Gervais Show, which takes bits from his popular podcast with Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington, he claims he has gone through the best stuff from the original podcasts for the show, so it’s really about running out of material.

But I think it’s mostly about a fear of commitment.  He wants to have these perfect little runs with everything he does, so he backs out just as they’re sort of hitting their stride.  Going out on a high note I guess.  And I think some US shows could maybe take a page from his book (Veronica Mars, I’m looking at you), but it also is a bit annoying to constantly get attached to a project he’s doing and then it’s over two minutes later.

Ricky said he will do two specials to end An Idiot Abroad.  I’m not 100% clear on whether these specials are the same as the ‘Short Way Round’ project he is working on, where Karl and Warwick Davis travel about on a scooter. I suspect they are one in the same, because how long can you film those two on a scooter? First of all, it’s a scooter, so they’re not going to be traveling the world at a very high rate of speed.  It’s meant to be a spoof on the popular British shows Long way Round and Long Way Down, which featured Ewan MacGregor and his friend Charley Boorman on motorcycles doing epic trips around the globe.  But they could go a proper 80 miles per hour on good roads.  How’s a Vespa going to fair in the Sahara?  We’ll have to wait and see. Even if they’re epic trek is from London to the Cotswolds, I’ll be tuning in.

As for Life’s Too Short, they have confirmed a second season and Ricky said he has written a finale, so it will follow the two seasons and a Christmas Easter special pattern. To be expected, really.

Ricky did mention a lot of new projects he’s working on.  The main one is a show called Derek, which he shot a pilot for Channel 4 in the UK earlier this year, and he will be producing a few more episodes later in the year.  He has said he wants a US airing, and I’m sure it’s in negotiations.  My guess would be with HBO, as aired his comedy specials, Ricky Gervais Show, and Life’s Too Short. Plus, you can swear.

My only concern with this show is that it doesn’t seem as accessible to an American audience as the others he’s made.

The show features Ricky as Derek, a potentially intellectually sub-normal retirement home worker, and also has Karl in his acting debut as the janitor/handyman type at the retirement home.

There was a lot of controversy when it first came out because people have accused Ricky of playing up a mental disability for laughs, but Ricky says that Derek is not disabled, only a bit slow.  I think a lot of the criticism has died down since the pilot aired.

My concerns with an American audience are that:

a-it seems very entrenched in an aspect of British society that doesn’t usually make it to this side of the pond.  The lives of the uneducated, the decidedly not-posh, the poor.  The type of people you see in the supermarket or something and you know they are either not trying to live an active life, or they are unaware of the impression they’re putting out. Usually, the shows that make it to the US feature at least educated professionals, if not the out and out wealthy.

b-We are a lot more sensitive to p.c.-ness on this side of the pond.  I remember being absolutely shocked at the blatant sexual harassment in the Office, and I know that’s not something that would fly on an American show.  Ricky himself has said that for the US Office all the characters had to be much more likeable than they were in the original show.  So I think the controversy over Derek in the UK will be more of a big deal here.

Even if he is not purposefully portraying a disabled man, he is obviously portraying a man of sub-par intelligence, and he is walking a very thin line between making that character loveable and heartwarming, and playing up his stupidity for a laugh.  Ricky likes to toe that line in all of his work.  But I think there’s a big difference with this. In Life’s Too Short, you would find yourself laughing at Warwick Davis’ character.  You wouldn’t be laughing at him for being a little person, but for being a smart person doing incredibly stupid things.  In Derek, you have someone of normal intelligence playing someone of below average intelligence, and you are meant to laugh at him for being a bumbling moron. There’s a big difference in that, for me. You’re meant to care about him, and like him, but also laugh at him.  I think that we Americans find that much harder than the Brits.  Maybe that’s just me?

But I have watched the pilot, which is up on YouTube.  I’m not sure the legality of that, but I’ll risk incarceration to give you my opinion.

I really love the Hannah character, who is sort of a female Tim (Martin Freeman from the Office UK)–the everyman of the show that we can relate to and we genuinely root for.

Karl Pilkington’s ‘character’ seems to me to be just him being himself, with a bit of fake hair and some glasses.  He complains a lot, likes to fix things, doesn’t know why he’s friends with Ricky.  Check, check, check.

I did find it very difficult to laugh at Derek, because he is obviously a bit odd and not very clever.  What shocked me the most, I think, is that I cried. I cried more than I laughed, which is certainly a departure from a lot of stuff like An Idiot Abroad.

I think the bottom line is that I trust Ricky as an auteur, as a story-teller.  I don’t think that Derek will be a huge hit here, but I do hope it airs on HBO or similar. I will definitely watch it, but I’m sad that all of his other projects are ending, all in the next year. And I’m going to miss Stephen Merchant being on my TV!