Gervais flopped with his last project Life's too short, the Brent humour was there but in the form of a distorted and unlikeable character (Warped Warwick Davis). The laughs were weak and unusually slapstick and the inclusion of himself and Merchant as, there selves, was lost on many.
New project Derek is about a nursing home struggling for funding from the council. Hannah runs the home, caring for the elderly and dim-witted staff simultaneously. Coming from a family full of people in the caring profession I can say that her character is spot on, caring, stern with a profound sense of right from wrong, she's the glue holding everyone together. Next you have employee's Dougie (Karl Pilkington) Kev (David Earl) and Derek (Gervais himself). The three gelled together well and their comedic timing was decent enough for an opening episode.
More importantly Derek was more in the shadows, with the main laughs coming from Dougie and Kev. Yes the round head jokes can drag on but on last nights evidence you have to doff your cap to Karl Pilkington. His rousing speech in the final moments is one that I really didn't think he had in him as an actor even though admittedly he is just playing himself with sideburns. David Earl (Kev) was the main comic relief, a character role almost identical to that of the one he played in Cemetery Junction. Funny, but maybe not funny enough to carry the comedy of the show all by himself.
The first episode of Derek not only ironed over a lot of the faults from Gervais's last sitcom attempt but also many faults from the Derek pilot itself. In last nights episode there was much less 'Derek falling in pond' and much more of a congealed comedy/drama script. There seemed a purpose behind it that many may have missed from the pilot. The inclusion of the council's involvement added a grit to the opener, a common enemy which ensured the viewers had a reason to get behind the characters.
The main controversial issue of the show was again present, is Derek disabled? Should we be laughing? The fact is that last night we weren't laughing at Derek, the laughs came from elsewhere. Gervais even answered the question directly in a scene between the councilman and Derek in which the councilman asks Derek if he wants to take an autism test. "Will it change me in any way? Will I be the same person? What's the point in doing the tests then?" The point being that you need to take Derek for what he is. If you get so wrapped up in thinking it's offensive for Gervais to play such a character then your over defining of the differences in Derek, as a Character, in itself is discrimination.
Derek had a few laughs, but mostly it was a heartfelt opening episode, a love letter to the elderly and people working within care. It's a traditionally set sitcom with a modern dramatic element underlining the laughs. I predict Gervais will more than play on the heartstrings of anyone with a connection to nursing homes in the coming episodes. Derek appears as though it will be more of a dramatic journey than a laugh a minute sitcom but that's fine by me, life itself is either a comedy with dramatic moments or a drama with comedy moments. The audience can choose for itself which one Derek is.