TV Review: Derek – Series Two; Trying Again

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Derek, the latest mockumentary from The Office-creator Ricky Gervais, returned to Channel 4 for a second series last night, possibly to the surprise of many. The comedy-drama about the residents and staff of a dreary retirement home has experienced a relentless wave of criticism since the pilot episode aired in 2012, mostly for Gervais’ portrayal of a character with physical and mental disabilities, leaving many pundits questioning how it got a second series.

Gervais was typically robust in his response to the criticism, insisting that, as he created the character only he can decide whether it is deliberately mocking or not, and he seems to be addressing those critics again in this episode. The plot sees Derek’s drunken, randy dad move in to Broad Hill and, in between putting the moves on the home’s eligible ladies, ask Derek to write a list expressing his deepest fantasies. We then see the list handed to the usually gentle manager Hannah (Kerry Godliman), who uncharacteristically mocks Derek’s desires before instantly feeling guilty when she read that his only real wish is for Hannah to be happy. The message seems pretty clear: Hannah, like so many others, got Derek’s character wrong and maybe Gervais’ critics did to.

Not that Derek has ever been a problem for me. I’ve always considered the naïf care worker to be one of the few comedy leads it’s actually OK to like, being as he isn’t a brash office manager or an arrogant background artist. Whilst his trouble in forming the correct verbs (“I likes animals”) may overstate his naivety, there’s no doubt that Derek’s lack of social awareness and his unfailing kindness are endearing, and it’s simply a lovely feeling to spend half an hour in his company.

One point where the critics may be right is that the show can be excessively sentimental as Gervais over pushes the emotion by underscoring every scene with a despondent soundtrack and writing awkwardly blunt dialogue for the interview scenes to needlessly remind the audience that these characters are disadvantaged: “I love it hear. It’s like being at home, except everyone here is really nice.”

There was a lot of these interview scenes during this episode, quite possibly to make up for the non-existent plot. Apart from the aforementioned list fiasco and Dougie (Karl Pilkington) finally quitting after one calamity too many, there isn’t a whole lot going on at Broad Hill. Maybe it needs a small, series-long story, like the potential closure of the home in series one, to give the characters some impetus, because right now they’re just shuffling around the place looking like they have nothing to do.

 But this is a minor foible in what is a very good comedy, one that always manages to maintain a tricky balance of humour and pathos. In one uproarious scene, Dougie, moments after being electrocuted by a faulty plug, storms out of the home and describes his hair as “like Ken Dodd”; but almost immediately, laughter gives way to being on the brink of tears as Derek touchingly watches a DVD compilation of his deceased friend Lizzie’s best moments.

Sure, Derek isn’t Ricky Gervais’ best work, and it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s an unapologetically sweet, often hilarious, and deeply affecting comedy-drama nevertheless.

If any show could be accused of being excessively kind and sentimental it’s surely Trying Again, the latest home-grown comedy to air on Sky Living. Co-creator Chris Addison plays bland tourist information officer Matt who is somewhat half-heartedly trying to repair his relationship with medical receptionist Meg (Jo Joyner) after she had an affair with a colleague.

It’s a nice concept and aims to follow the Gervais model of finding humour in the humdrum; but rather than a satirical slice of life, the ordinary setting (Kendal) and ordinary people come across as overwhelmingly twee. Aside from a brilliantly bonkers therapy session where even the therapist skirts around the word ‘sex’, most of the gags are out-dated with a running joke about the perils of predictive text coming about ten years too late. 

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