'Derek' Series 1, Episode 1 (UK Airdate: 30 Jan '12) // Words; Saam Das
After his success with 'The Office' and 'Extras', it was a little odd that Ricky Gervais' new series 'Derek' didn't launch into its first series. Instead, there was a sole pilot last year, leading to a new series in 2013. The opening episode of the series suggests that there will be plenty of highlights.
Writer-director Gervais loves his mockumentary format and his examination of life in a retirement home seems to work well with a roving camera crew. The main focus is on Derek Noakes (Gervais), a popular oddball care worker, ably supported by home manager Hannah (Kerry Godliman) and Karl Pilkington as Dougie, the unqualified handyman. The less said about another prominent supporting character, Kev (David Earl), the better.
The series opener saw the council assess the home, in light of budget cuts - a brave start to the series but certainly one that resonates in these austere times. As the bureaucrats circled the home, ready to pounce, Hannah perhaps puts it best: "People think care means three meals a day and a bed. But care means caring."
Elsewhere, the humour fell flat, especially the series of absolutely awful Joanna Lumley jokes. Gervais seemingly opted to throw lots of cute pets into this episode rather than concerning himself with the quality of humour. (Not that I'm complaining too much, I'm all for sweet moments with nice doggies.)
The drama, on the other hand, was largely well played - aside from a curious Dougie monologue sequence with melodramatic cutaways. Last year's pilot proved surprisingly heartbreaking with strong emotional beats, and while we never quite got to that level here, Dougie's triumphant episode-ending speech is undoubtedly a career highlight for Pilkington and Gervais.
The pilot was perhaps unfairly criticised for making a mockery of the disabled - there is a strong inkling that Derek has special needs. It wasn't something that I considered an issue, with Derek clearly being a positive character around the home. However, it is something that Gervais felt the need to address, doing so directly in the episode. When Derek is asked if he's autistic - the eventual answer simply being "don't worry about it". I certainly don't intend to.
Watch 'Derek' on 4oD for a limited time. The series airs every Wednesday at 10pm on Channel 4.