Category Archives: Talking Heads

‘Derek’ – Episode 1.1 Review

Following a moderately successful pilot episode last year, Ricky Gervais’s care home comedy-drama Derek has begun its first full run on Channel 4. The show has split opinion (much like Gervais does himself) – some love it, some absolutely despise it. Thankfully, I fall into the former camp.

ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE?

I think people’s main problem with Derek is that when you see Ricky Gervais, you immediately think of David Brent or Andy Millman, so to see him play Derek – someone so different to those characters – doesn’t seem right in a way.

I must admit that, love it as I do, I do sometimes see scenes in Derek as a little self-indulgent on Gervais’s part. Also, there are stark similarities to what is arguably his biggest success: The Office. With the shaky camera, talking heads and naturalistic dialogue, you can see why many may see Derek as Gervais’s attempt to take some of the magic from Wernham Hogg and sprinkle it over Broad Hill retirement home – only without his long-term collaborator Stephen Merchant in tow. I mean, come on: Derek even does the clueless and slightly ironic looks to camera which have for so long been synonymous with Slough’s most self-deprecating sales rep, Tim.

Then again, are those really criticisms of Derek? Brilliant as those characters are, would we want to see Ricky Gervais spend the rest of his career being type-casted as socially awkward, deluded protagonists? Can we really blame him for creating a character which is in such contrast to those previously mentioned, just so that he can lessen his chances of venturing outside, plagued by incessant screeches of ‘Is he ‘aving a laugh?’? No!

Plus, is there truly anything wrong with Derek bearing resemblance to the double Golden Globe-winning, Emmy-nominated The Office? The advice for writers is invariably ‘stick to what you know’. Renowned formats are what Gervais knows, and are what Gervais is clearly sticking to.

CRITICISM

People are always going to criticise, no matter what. I once heard a story of a teacher saving a naturally grateful pupil from choking by performing the Heimlich Manoeuvre, but in the process cracking the boy’s ribs. On having this story recounted to him, one of my friends said, ‘My God! You cracked his ribs? I wouldn’t have thanked you!’. People, as I said, will always criticise – and so it is with Derek, Ricky Gervais and comedy in general. However, I fail to understand how anyone can deny the absolute sublime brilliance of this piece. It’s sweet, it’s warm, it’s sad. Okay, it doesn’t provide the laughs of The Office or even Extras but Gervais himself has never chosen to categorise it as a comedy, as such. In an interview with the British Comedy Guide he said on the subject of it being a comedy or a drama, ‘The answer doesn’t matter really. What matters if you enjoy it…for whatever reason.’ Well I certainly did enjoy it – and so did 1.4 million others…presumably.

Derek is never intended to have audiences rolling around laughing: it has been crafted in order to have people reaching for the tissues crying. I seldom get tearful over TV shows – and I didn’t with Derek – but it’s easy to see why people do. If you eradicate the whole argument of whether Gervais’s performance portrays the character to be mentally disabled, you will see that he presents for us a very sympathetic, likeable man who is the perfect vehicle for him to convey the underlying message about those who are being portrayed within it and how we, as a society, regard them.

A MESSAGE TO CONVEY

Coupled with his genuine love for the character, it is palpable that Gervais has created Derek in order to get across his statement about society’s attitudes. When the pilot of this show aired in Spring 2012, a lot of people (critics and newspaper columnists in particular) speculated that the character is Autistic – something which Gervais has denied in the press previously (stating in an interview with The Sun in March last year, ‘I’ve never thought of him as disabled’) and which he brazenly referenced towards the end of the first episode of this series. When a Council representative visiting the retirement home insensitively questioned Derek as to whether he had ever been tested for Autism, Derek offered a stream of questions about what would happen, should he be Autistic, such as, ‘Would I die?’, ‘Would I have to go into a hospital?’ and ‘Would it change me in any way as a person?’. Having received a ‘no’ to all of these queries, our eponymous hero simply said ‘Don’t worry about it then’. In this small dialogue, which lasted no more than a minute, Gervais perfectly summed up his feelings: so what if Derek is Autistic? Can’t we just enjoy him for the unassuming, kind-natured person he so clearly is without questioning whether he has a disorder or not? For Gervais to reply to his critics so concisely through the mouth of Derek was perfect and ingenious.

In addition, the home’s manager, Hannah (expertly played by Kerry Godliman), delivered a brilliant monologue about caring for the elderly and how much they deserve that care. Had that speech not originated from the pen of Gervais, to be brought to life by the talent of Godliman, it may have seemed sickeningly sentimental but it wasn’t: it managed to convey its message fully without trying too hard.

 

When I’ve been previewing the week’s TV in my YouTube videos, I’ve championed Derek pretty much throughout and although I love it and have given it a very complimentary review here, I completely understand that it won’t be for everyone. For some, Ricky Gervais himself is unpalatable, so the thought of watching him portray a character who has been (and possibly still is) regarded as politically incorrect is unbearable. However, I implore you to simply give Derek a chance. Whereas I adore The Office and Extras, I’m not a fan of Gervais’s stand-up routines – therefore I’m not a devout fan of his. Nevertheless, I have found a place in my heart for Derek and I’m sure that, given the chance and provided that they don’t start watching with the expectation of laugh-a-minute material, many other people will too.

Derek is on Wednesdays at 10pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Derek? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on my YouTube channel.

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‘Jews at Ten’ – Episode 1.1

Jewish programming seems to be popular at the moment: Ronna and Beverly is doing well for Sky Atlantic, and ITV have to date produced two series of their documentary Strictly Kosher (with it being given a repeat run on ITV1 from Sunday night).

In addition to this, Channel 4 apppear to currently be running what I would descirbe as a ‘Jewish Season’, with the recommissioning of sitcom Friday Night Dinner, the premier of Jewish Mum of the Year and this – Jews at Ten, a series showing famous Jewish celebrities sharing their experiences as a result of their faith.

CONFUSE AT TEN

I’m not quite sure how to categorise this show. It couldn’t exactly be described as a chat show as it doesn’t have a host as such. Neither would I really call it a documentary. The title – as I’m sure you’ve gathered, a pun of News at Ten – would suggest that it’s a comedy, but the content, on the other hand, would not.

Don’t get me wrong: it can be funny – but a comedy? I don’t know.

I think I’ll plump for ‘a series of talking heads’…although I can’t see the term catching on.

ENLIGHTENMENT

This episode focused on Jewish celebrations and traditions, including; Bar Mitzvahs (a Jewish boy’s coming of age ceremony); the Brit Malah, also known as the Bris – or circumcision; and Hanukkah – the Festival of Light.

Despite studying GCSE Religious Studies, I must confess that I didn’t know a lot about Judaism. I’d heard of the aforementioned traditions, but I didn’t know why they happened, nor when – I just knew they were there. Therefore, I found that Jews at Ten enlightened me about the religion and its customs.

Now, I understand that by me saying it ‘enlightened me’, I may have deterred many people from watching the program as I’ve made it sound like a serious, informative look at Judaism but that is far from the truth. It’s actually a light-hearted program, with many of the participants actually opposing aspects of the religion (the Bris came under particular criticism – unsurprisingly from the men), and a lot actually confessing that they celebrate Christmas – of course, a Christian festival – as well as Hanukkah. Some owned up to actually preferring Christmas than their own festival. So, the large majority of those being interviewed were most certainly not taking themselves too seriously.

What I believe kept it from being a heavy program was the choice to include recognisable faces, many of whom – like Vanessa Feltz, Uri Geller and Tracy-Ann Oberman – I actually did not realise were Jewish. If Jews at Ten had been fronted solely by some boring presenter, pontificating about why Judaism is so great and superior to other faiths, I would have swtiched off because it wouldn’t have engaged me. However, having celebrities discussing honestly and somewhat jokingly their own personal experiences really did engage me and I wanted to hear what they wanted to say, because I was interested in their views and finding out more about them. The fact that I acquired some information which I had been oblivious too, prior to watching the program, is a complete bonus.

 

So, I think it’s safe to say that I will be watching the rest of the Jews at Ten series – whereas not overwhelmingly funny (but, then again, it doesn’t profess itself to be), it is interesting and I come away having absorbed information I didn’t realise I had taken in while watching!

 

Jews at Ten can be seen at 10pm on Tuesdays on More4, or at various times in the early hours of Friday morning on Channel 4 (this week at 1:10am)

 

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Also, watch out for my review on shows such as The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing on my YouTube channel – http://www.youtube.com/user/UKTVReviewer