THE COUCH POTATO: Derek, a half-decent show at best of times
WHENEVER a celebrity becomes too big for their boots, the biggest pitfall is to join the chorus of knee-jerk criticism, for one very good reason.
They’ll mistake it for jealousy of their success and dismiss anything that isn’t gushing praise as sour grapes. (See Chris Moyles and his amazing technicolor ego).
So before we go any further, let me make two things crystal.
I am not jealous of the publicity-shy, reclusive Ricky Gervais. Good luck to him.
And whatever I might say henceforth is based on the small fact that I have watched both last year’s pilot and Wednesday night’s opening episode of his latest television project, Derek, on Channel 4.
First the good news. It is not a disaster. He has not made a complete turkey of a comedy drama, two words that strike fear into my professional heart.
(You can feel the “but” approaching fast, can’t you?) But...
The fundamental flaw is Ricky Gervais, the show’s title-role actor, writer, director, executive producer, writes the feem tune, sings the feem tune (OK, those last two aren’t strictly true).
It isn’t so much that it’s impossible not to see Derek, a kind-hearted carer with undefined learning difficulties at a closure-threatened nursing home, as David Brent the wrong side of a mid-life crisis having picked up a persistent gurn, although this is an issue.
It isn’t so much that the show is steeped in controversy, which it really isn’t.
Nor is it the fact that, like anything Gervais has done in the last decade, every new programme he makes is automatically compared with and always falls short of The Office.
No, his remarkable error is that he’s only gone and created a show revolving around a character who is, after just two outings, completely irrelevant and surplus to requirements.
There is, you see, a lot to like about Derek the programme.
Kerry Godliman who plays the care home’s manager Hannah is excellent.
Karl Pilkington cuts across the overwhelming sickly sweet sentimentality as no-nonsense handyman Dougie, for which his inspiration is clearly Karl Pilkington from An Idiot Abroad.
But Gervais the director/producer’s obvious longing to tug the viewers’ heartstrings with cheap soppy tricks borders on desperation – the melancholic piano classical music of Einaudi, cats and dogs from a pet rescue centre giving old people rare moments of joy, Hannah declaring: “90 per cent of care-home residents die within six months of being re-homed,” every last second of it batters you with a sledgehammer carved from the hooves of crying orphaned baby deer.
Strip all this away and at best you have a half-decent show.
This is Ricky Gervais we’re talking about, of course, so it’s not as simple as that.
The final scene where Dougie launched into a heroic tirade against a council bean-counter who wants to shut down the place was great stuff.
So I’ll give you two guesses who the camera lingered on as the end credits rolled.
Yep, Gervais. That’s the insurmountable obstacle with Derek. It doesn’t need Derek.
The writer, lead actor, director, executive producer has trapped himself.
And let me say for the record in case he’s reading. That is nothing to be jealous of.
● BBC2’s Ski Sunday.
● Football Transfer Deadline Day, on Sky Sports.
● Trinny and Susannah’s return to television, on QVC shopping channel last Saturday afternoon (and to think, some people said their TV careers were dead).
● Tony Gubba commentating on Matt Lapinskas’s Dancing On Ice routine: “This is the slam dunk cartwheel followed by some back crossovers, then the towering inferno and the bouncing aeroplane.”
Keep taking the pills, Tony.
● The sight of Martine McCutcheon being crushed to death by a giant lump of cheese on Midsomer Murders. Poor thing, she’s gone to a feta place. (And no, in case you’re wondering, four hours staring at Wikipedia’s entire list of types of cheese for a lame pun was not a waste of time).
● BBC2’s Great British Menu organising a banquet at the Royal Albert Hall to mark “25 years of Comic Relief” which, as we all know, began in 1985.
● Mastermind giving the green light to Red Dwarf as a specialist subject, whereas it’s actually more suited to a DVD quiz game, called Beat The Geek.
● ITV2’s Take Me Out: The Gossip co-host Mark Wright failing to give viewers the gossip that he used to date one of the girls.
● Top Gear’s moronic Dragons’ Den spoof destroying both shows at once.
● Voiceover man at the end of Channel 4’s One Born Every Minute: “If you can’t wait until next week, there’s a wealth of birth videos online at channel4.com” Speaking as a dad of two, believe me, I can wait.
● The memory of Dermot O’Leary, hosting the National Television Awards, announcing: “Jeremy (Kyle) is poorly so he can’t be here.
That’s karma for you,” a week before it emerged he has battled testicular cancer, which was made even worse when Phillip Schofield told This Morning’s viewers on Wednesday: “It’s something that all of us in daytime ITV have known about for some time.” Just a pity, then, that nobody at daytime ITV thought to tell nighttime ITV.