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Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Custard Previews Derek. Coming soon to Channel 4


You may feel you know what to expect when you read the words “Comedy from Ricky Gervais” in the TV listings. Since the birth of The Office we've all grown familiar of his style. His love of squirmy characters and scenes that are so cringe worthy that you are forced to watch them through your fingers. I have to be brutally honest and I say that when I was given access to preview his new one-off comedy drama Derek I was fairly sure I knew what I was in for. On the face of it it all sounds fairly standard. Yes its another comedy documentary with Gervias in the lead role but that is where the similarity or comparison with any of his previous work ends. Gervais doesn’t just play Derek, he transforms into Derek. By the second scene it dawned on me I had forgotten I was watching Gervias and I found myself completely drawn in by his performance. It is no over exaggeration to say that the character of Derek is about as far removed from David Brent or Andy Millman as you can get. Derek is the sort of character that Andy Millman would ignore he's someone that Brent would most probably happily mock in hopes getting of a cheap laugh. Its a refreshing script that at no point mocks or looks down on its characters. Gervais celebrates the world these people inhabit and as an audience member you are drawn in and feel for the characters in a caring manner rather than the pitying feeling you may have felt with Brent.

The 30 minuets centeres around Derek's life. He works at a nursing home caring for the elderly and its the story of Derek's working life, his friends and his loves. It will strike you when you first encounter him that he the complete polar opposite of anyone Gervais has portrayed before. Derek is a warm hearted, gentle soul who revels in the people he works with at the nursing home and in life’s simple pleasures. He’s a man who looks forward to welcoming  a new resident moving into the home, to watching humerous clips on Youtube or Deal or No Deal and spending time with his friends. In the wrong hands Derek could have become a figure of sadness or pity but Gervias plays him with a warmth and depth not seen in his work since The Office. Derek sees the good in everyone and you'd have to have a heart of stone not to warm to him instantly.


Karl Pilkington (An Idiot Abroad) provides the main comedy value in this one-off special. It’s Pilkington’s first acting role and he suits landlord Douglas perfectly. I’m aware I’d be repeating myself  again to say that Dougie and Derek have a warm relationship but that’s what will strike you about the programme, it’s a warm, poignant and at times deeply moving half hour.


Possibly the most important person in Derek’s life is Hannah (brilliantly played by relative newcomer Kerry Godliman). Hannah is a care worker at the home and is Derek's best friend. She’s smart, witty and hardworking, but unlucky in love, and like Derek, always puts other people first. At the heart of their relationship is a deep love and respect for one another and again Hannah never sees Derek as a figure of fun. She loves and cares for him in a sisterly, friendly even maternal way. Its rare to see a relationship between a man and a woman portrayed this way on television and it made for a refreshing change.

The episode is shot in  the documentary style that was crafted so brilliantly in The Office. Because each character is so underplayed and genuine its easy to believe there's a Channel 4 documentary crew following them around. The "talking head" scenes offer interesting insight into each characters life and allow them to open up.  I was completely sucked in by each character. In lots of ways it was more underplayed than even The Office and we know how real that felt on first viewing. The characters are kind, sweet and genuinely nice people and this makes the thirty minuets virtually whiz by. 

I honestly cannot stress how poignant and moving I found this. A scene towards the end where Derek speaks to the camera about one of his favourite home residents very nearly bought me to tears. “I’m not clever or good-looking but I am kind”. There's an sadness and a truth in is eyes that made me ache. I’ll admit to feeling very choked up and genuinely moved by the performances here and that’s something I’ll also admit I wasn’t expecting. 

Whilst some were left bemused or unimpressed by Life's Too Short, Derek proves that Gervais can still produce raw emotion and make you care about a character in a way that I’m not sure many other comedic actors can and serves as a reminder of what a brilliantly authentic performer he can be.

If you tune into Derek expecting belly laughs and the same comedy style as Extras or The Office then you may be disappointed. Karl Pilkington is fantastically dry as landlord Douglas but really it’s a beautifully told story of love of friendship and loss and if you’re anything like me you’ll be surprised just how much it moves you.

Make sure you catch Derek on Thursday 12th April at 10.00pm on Channel 4




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