Opinion: Derek – Ricky's Folly?


What must it be like to be the brain of Ricky Gervais? I’ve just seen the first episode of the new series of Derek and if the first series had a sentimental edge, with its Capra-esque “kindness is magic” message generously smeared across the screen, the opener of the sequel dips its fingers even deeper into the icky, syrupy, sugar-coated pot. The debate this time isn’t about whether Ricky Gervais is mocking people with learning difficulties, it is whether his portrayal of innocent, saintly, simple soul Derek Noakes has any connection whatsoever with reality. Gervais' green-coloured co-stars in his new Muppets movie are more realistic than Derek. 

The scenario is pretty much the same here as series one, except that grumpy voice of reason Dougie (Karl Pilkington) chucks in the towel at the end of the first episode. Hannah (Kerry Godliman, still wonderful against the odds) is dating Tom (Brett Goldstein) and perma-pickled, bleak, sexual fantasist Kev (David Earl, though I prefer him as Brian Gittins) is still hanging around Broad Hill Retirement Home because he has run out of options. Character comedian Colin Hoult is the most notable new addition as cynical, laddish Jeff. 

But we know we are in familiar territory from the very first scene when Derek encounters a spider in the toilets. I’m not saying I could write all the dialogue Ricky Gervais comes up with, but I certainly knew that he was going to plead “don’t kill it” as soon as Dougie approached it. "What do you want me to do, deport it?" answers Dougie.

After a controversail pilot and a series that had mixed reviews Gervais has now clearly worked out what Derek believes in, He loves animals because they never mean anyone any harm and lack all the frailties and failings of humans. As he says, you never see a lazy ant. On the other hand hasn’t Derek ever seen a lion tear a passing wildebeest apart?

The only thing Derek loves more than animals is old people. He sees them as having a wealth of wisdom and knowledge and yet as far as he can see they are no longer valued in society. Instead they are dumped in places like Broad Hill by their relatives. Things are different for Derek though. After being reunited with his father at the end of the first series his dad has now moved into Broad Hill, making Derek happy.

As I said at the start, I’d love to know the reasoning behind Derek. While The Office continues to win Gervais accolades – there was another tribute in the Guardian only last week – he chooses to persevere with this odd project. It feels as if Gervais wants Derek to be his legacy. Yet I have lost count of the number of fans of The Office who simply cannot get their head around Derek. This series feels more like his folly, while The Office was his true masterpiece.

I guess the nearest comparison is when Blackadder fans first saw Mr Bean. How could someone who had made such a sophisticated, groundbreaking sitcom come up with something so different and to many people's minds, so obviously inferior? Of course Rowan Atkinson did not write Blackadder or Mr Bean, while The Office and Derek both have Ricky Gervais' dabs all over them.

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