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I really feel like there's something I'm missing here - I genuinely can't ...
on 16 August 2016
I really feel like there's something I'm missing here - I genuinely can't even begin to understand how this show has acquired such a loyal following.
I think Ricky Gervais is a great talent, having created some of the most effective pieces of television I have seen - this, however, is no such example. I don't really even know where to start, so comprehensive are the failings of this thing.
Derek's greatest weaknesses lie in the writing effort - the performances on the whole are passable (with Karl Pilkington striding tall amongst them) - each episode somehow seems simultaneously padded for content and incredibly rushed. Character arcs are given literally single lines of development whilst innumerable panning shots of the care home set to Einaudi consume a ludicrous amount of screen-time. No narrative payoff of note is ever earned or contextualised to a satisfying degree, hoping only to survive on its manipulative and cloying sentimentality-assault alone.
But beyond the padding and structural issues exist the worst offenders - the characters themselves. It doesn't take a lot of effort to think of timeless comedy characters: Frasier Crane, Leslie Knope, Richard Richard and, of course, David Brent. Derek's motley crew, by comparison, seem to be sprung from the mind of a GCSE literature student. Hannah - the care-home worker who has a temper and swears but GUESS WHAT has a heart of gold. Vicky - the chav who has a potty mouth, adores the Kardashians, seems vacuous but GUESS WHAT has a heart of gold. Kev - the struggling sexually-repressed alcoholic vagrant that GUESS WHAT has a heart of gold. Dougie - the caretaker who hates his job and takes no nonsense but GUESS WHAT... you get the picture. The worst offender is definitely Hannah who is the vessel for the majority of the unearned sentimentality.
Derek himself falls into the same framework as above but at least lends a slightly different perspective through which to view proceedings. And as cloying, mawkish and simplistic as his characterisation is, it's the writing around him which is especially egregious. The way everyone is constantly falling over themselves to tell the audience just how wonderful he is - regardless of narrative cohesion or justification - is especially frustrating.
However, as hackneyed and poorly-written as the scenarios and main characters are, weirdly, it's the secondary characters which really show how dire these scripts are. I haven't got the lifespan to record them all, but here are just a few examples (a man was paid money to create these): an "evil" woman who Hannah went to school with who actually says out loud the extent to which men are attracted to her; a banker who can't understand that there's more to life than money; and a woman who is so spoilt that she actually claims to burn her belongings instead of taking them to a jumble sale. These abominations are some of the most nakedly transparent, poorly-conceived, pantomime villains I've ever had the misfortune of witnessing. There's not a drop of reality to them - only evil as viewed in the most base, boring and unsatisfying way.
Let's not forget the music either. Einaudi and Einaudi-esque piano work does its best to convince you that what you're seeing is worthy of actual human emotion but, like the writing, lacks the nuance required to deliver any substantial emotional weight. Again, the whole thing feels like it has been constructed by a teenager just becoming aware of basic televisual tropes. The platitudinous, sickly-sweet treacle is laid on so thickly that it feels like it only could have come from an individual with a metric ton of hormones running through them.
Perhaps someone cut Gervais' coke with something.
I haven't spoken to the humour much partly because of how personal that kind of thing can be but mostly because the jokes are submerged beneath the sickly layer described above. Suffice it to say, I didn't find very funny, but I know plenty of people who do.
I could go on and on, I guess I already have. This doesn't even come from a place of malice or anger, more genuine bewilderment. I'd sincerely like to have a conversation with someone who can put a case forward for Derek, because the love it has received is beyond my current understanding of the world.
Whilst I'd only describe Stephen Merchant's Hello Ladies as "fine", Derek really does make you wonder where the genius behind The Office and Extras lay.