Game Change, Sky Atlantic, Saturday Derek, Channel 4, Thursday

You run for US vice-president, and end up as the subject of a remarkably sympathetic docu-drama

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The Independent Culture

Famous as I am not, I can only imagine what an existential cortex-screwer it is seeing yourself portrayed on screen. And, doubtless, nobody knows that better than Sarah Palin. After all, during her gaffe-laden 2008 run as the Republicans' vice-presidential candidate, the humiliation she endured was catastrophically amplified by Tina Fey's career-making impression of her on Saturday Night Live.

Twice, in Game Change, an autopsy of John McCain's election campaign vis-à-vis his controversial running mate, we saw Julianne Moore as Palin watching Fey impersonating Palin. While Fey gurned, Moore's big eyes swelled with fear. Juxtaposing these two versions of Palin, the film demonstrated its own unusually humane treatment of every liberal's favourite bête noire.

Not that it will matter to the subject herself; unsurprisingly, she has declined to "waste [her] time on false narrative". Should she ever wish to, though, she might be surprised to find HBO's film was less about her than about the political machine from whence she emerged. If we all knew about her ignorance, less familiar was the ignorance of McCain's cronies, led by Woody Harrelson's Steve Schmidt, as they groped for a "game-changer" to counter Obama's dazzle.

This game-changer, it was determined, should be a maverick but malleable female deputy – the Play-Doh lady, if you will. Cue a hilarious scene in which an aide hit Google to scout out potential candidates, his knowledge of political women presumably stretching as far as Nancy Reagan. "This is a woman with a gun. The base is going to do backflips," he simpered, after hitting on the Alaskan governor. As was made clear, the parodying of Palin by her enemies was only in keeping with the caricature of her conceived by her colleagues.

From thereon in, the drama powered along on multiple narrative revolutions, as Palin's star variously rose and fell via adept speech-making, egregious media encounters, catatonic meltdowns and myopic self-belief. "It wasn't a campaign. It was a bad reality show," reflected Schmidt, at which point your thoughts turned to Susan Boyle, another trussed-up TV stooge thrown to the wolves by male overlords and churned up by a voracious news cycle.

As for Moore, hers was a consummate, affectingly shaded performance. Perhaps a bit too consummate, missing as it did a touch of the one-dimensional, hokey charisma which made Palin such a skin-crawling force.

Then again, the story ensured we were never over-burdened with sympathy. As Palin belatedly found her voice, going rogue from McCain and peddling xenophobic anti-Obama rhetoric, you found yourself simultaneously cheering her self-definition and sickened by what that entailed. "No news is meant to be remembered any more; it's just entertainment," said Schmidt as he tried to bolster his charge. This scintillating study in realpolitik, however, implored us never to forget.

From the profoundly depressing to the merely depressing: Ricky Gervais's latest mock-doc, Derek, set in an old people's home, was preceded, like last year's Life's Too Short, by a hullabaloo deflecting attention from the fact of its being not much cop. This time, controversy centred on the mental health of Gervais's protagonist, a hunched, open-mouthed care assistant. Was Gervais mocking people with learning difficulties? What was indisputable was that his physically crude performance stuck out from those of his understated co-stars like a Chuckle Brother in Ken Loach.

Indeed, this pilot was all over the place, neither funny nor dramatic nor documentary-like, thanks to an obtrusively saccharine piano soundtrack. And if it was too sentimental to be offensive, then it was certainly condescending, its pitiable characters suggesting that working in social care presupposes being dysfunctional. With its mood of geriatric torpor, what it most recalled was BBC Four's Getting On, a far superior show that, incidentally, owed a lot to The Office – evidence, all in all, of how far Gervais hadn't come.