Ricky Gervais raises bar again with daring comedy

Simple soul … Ricky Gervais stars in the new comedy Derek. Ricky Gervais
Nanjing Night Net

On Thursday night on the ABC – for those who found it – Ricky Gervais’ latest comedy premiered in Australia.

Derek is a controversial series which blurs the lines between documentary, drama, comedy and just what is funny, and it was a landmark moment for the comedian who created in Derek a character who definitely pushed the boundaries.

Which is, after all, what Gervais lives to do.

All over Twitter he’s the arch atheist, trolling the faithful with glee. As host of the Golden Globes, he didn’t just bite the hand that fed him so much as tear it off at the wrist as he ripped into the assembled stars.

And in television comedy, his true element, he’s been unstoppable.

Playing David Brent in The Office he exposed the hilarity of the over-confident but under-talented boss and deconstructed the tropes of the modern workplace to show us the truth of life as a workday drone. In Extras, he stripped back the egos of actors to reveal why adults would choose a career playing dress-ups. And in Derek, well, Gervais is tossing traditional concepts of comedy out the window entirely.

Derek – created, written, directed and played by Gervais – is the story of a quiet middle-aged man who works in a slightly seedy nursing home, with his best friends the other staff and the residents.

A simple soul (the question of whether Derek is mentally handicapped has been raised repeatedly, but Gervais shrugs it off), he faces life with an almost zen-like calm and in his honest appraisal of what’s happening around him, pops out some of the funniest lines seen on screen in years.

But the huge achievement Gervais manages is this: we’re never laughing at Derek. His innocence is the filter through which Gervais’s sharp comedy has been run and the result is astounding.

In last night’s opening episode, dropped into the national broadcaster’s schedule with almost no warning, we join 49-year-old Derek Noakes as he goes about his business with a documentary film crew in tow. We meet his best mate Dougie (played by long-time Gervais associate Karl Pilkington), nurse Hannah (Kerry Godliman) and his “best friends in the world”, the home’s residents.

The pilot admirably introduced both the characters and the concept when Hannah made the mistake of confiding in Derek that she was interested in one of the residents’ visitors, but suspects he might be gay.

Derek’s solution to the problem is the direct opposite to what every other tired sitcom would have done and it’s brilliant because of it.

But as we were laughing, Gervais was already setting up one of the most heart-breaking TV scenes imaginable – and that in a year when Offspring bumped off a major player just to keep things interesting.

It was a clear indication that with Derek, Gervais has moved his past anarchic comedy in a very new direction.

This is funny, but subversive as well, challenging viewers to rethink why they laugh, why some things are taboo and asking why they should be.

Derek is no ordinary TV hero, but by episode two (screening on the ABC next Thursday), where his world is under threat from a budget-cutting council, we’re well and truly on his side.

Before its premiere in Britain, the series came under heavy fire for what the politically correct (who hadn’t even seen it) were sure would be an attack on those who can’t fight back.

After it aired, the reaction was overwhelmingly different with legions of viewers calling Derek the sweetest character in years and the series became an instant favourite.

Here in Australia, the reaction is likely to be the same.

You will laugh, no doubt about it, but chances are you’ll find yourself choked up at genuinely touching moments that no other performer would have even dared. Possibly at the same time.

Gervais, acknowledged in the comedy world as one of the best, has raised the bar again.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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