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.