Derek, the second series of which is currently showing on Channel 4, follows a middle-aged man with a conveniently vague mental disability working in an old folks’ home. It’s not so much the story of its inhabitants dying as the death of Ricky Gervais’s talent. Why was The Office a globe-conquering comedy classic, while Derek feels cheaper than an episode of When the Whistle Blows?
It’s easy to dismiss Derek, another mockumentary with awkward humour, as a formula that’s been done to death by Gervais, but that doesn’t do justice to just how godawful Derek is.
The key to the success of The Office was its universality: David Brent was every buffoonish boss you ever worked for, Tim was the everyman stuck in a dead-end job. Derek, on the other hand, doesn’t even exist in society as we know it. The character of Derek has no life outside the sheltered world of the retirement home, so the characters are never challenged with the problems of everyday life.
Moreover, The Office had to be a mockumentary – the genius of David Brent was how his ego fed off the cameras, and changed his entire personality in their presence. Derek, meanwhile, doesn’t demand to be a mockumentary. It seems to be a lazy way for characters to deliver exposition straight to camera, and a low-budget way of filming a TV comedy.
The Office even felt like a documentary – remember those transitions between scenes like the close-ups of printers and background characters on the phone? Derek can’t stand to lose a second of its incredibly dumb comedy.