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Derek, TV review: It's time to see the funny side of Ricky Gervais' kind character


They're getting a bit tiring, all these losers. Of course, no one liked Reggie Perrin because they thought he was an alpha male but at least he had a bit of vim to him when he got mad. Likewise, Fawlty, Trotter, Partridge and Brent all thought they had a bit of something going for them. Which is why we're happy laughing at them.

There's been a run of British sitcoms in the past year or two, Man Down, Drifters, Uncle, where the protagonist is, frankly, a bit of a loser. The joke's on them. And don't they just know it. Which is fine – all three of those shows were rather good. It's just that their genesis was more Mark Corrigan than Jez Usborne. But sometimes you want someone to rage against the dying of the light a bit more. Even if it's a misplaced rage.

The genius of David Brent, of course, was the disconnect between his idea of himself as a chilled-out entertainer and the reality. In Ricky Gervais's Derek, which returned to Channel 4 for a second series tonight, the disconnect is there all right, but for nursing-home helper Derek Noakes, it's a disconnect between being normal and "lucky" and the fact that he is a little intellectually below par. But Derek isn't raging, he's coping. Just about.

The debate over whether Derek was mocking disabled people dominated the show's first run on Channel 4, with the actor suggesting that, with Derek being his fictional creation and all, only he could decide whether or not he had a disorder like autism. A fair argument, but one that sidesteps the basic subjectivity of art. It's not like if Van Gogh insisted that no, actually, that's a vase of rhododendrons, we'd be obliged to agree.

The trouble isn't Derek's condition, or lack of, it's Derek himself. He feels like a cartoon in a world of verisimilitude. His insights ("You never see, like, a lazy ant") are funny and call to mind Karl Pilkington's faux-naïf observations on Gervais's podcasts but the way his slowness is translated into his sweet and kind character ("I thinks of", "I wishes I") feels more at home in a teenage theatre workshop than in primetime.

There's certainly a good show here, though. Where better to mine pathos than a financially struggling old people's home? Karl Pilkington is brill as eagle-haired handyman Dougie ("Don't kill it? What do you want me to do with it, deport it?" he asked Derek of a huge spider). Colin Hoult, too is fantastic as a possibly deranged ex-squaddie Geoff, who we witnessed explaining "humanzees" to a bewildered Derek.

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