Category Archives: Comedy

BBC TV REVIEW – INSIDE NO. 9 (2020) – SEASON 5 – more hare-raising twists from geniuses Pemberton and Shearsmith!

BBC TV REVIEW – INSIDE NO. 9 (2020) – SEASON 5

Created and written by: Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Directors (Season5): Matt Lipsey, Guillem Morales, Steve Pemberton

Original Network: BBC (available on BBC Iplayer and Netflix)

No. of Episodes: 6

***CONTAINS PROPER SPOILERS***



Inside No. 9 is written by and stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Both are brilliant comedic and dramatic actors, having appeared in many TV shows and films down the years. They are arguably most famous for beginning their careers in amazing comedic troupe The League of Gentlemen; however, their work on Inside No. 9 surpasses the ‘League’ in my view.

If you have never seen Inside No. 9 before, I urge you to do so. It is an exceptional anthology series with six standalone episodes per season. Individual episodes feature a whole host of different characters and actors each time. As per the prior seasons, the latest one is absolutely brilliant. It privileges tightly woven thirty-minute short narratives, which more often than not, feature a twist in the tale. Moroever the events usually unfold in one location with never more than a handful of characters. This makes the narratives feel more focussed, intense and intimate.

Inside No. 9 is also a surprising delight because you never know what kind of genre you will get. One week you could get comedy, horror, drama, crime, romance or musical; and sometimes a combination of all of them. They also take chances with their use of form and structure, with many episodes either paying homage or parodying different genre styles. So, here are some short reviews of each episode from Season 5. Usually, I mark my reviews out of eleven (in homage to This is Spinal Tap (1984)), however, for obvious reasons, I will be marking these reviews out of NINE.


EPISODE 1 – THE REFEREE’S A W**NKER

Cast: David Morrissey, Ralph Little, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith

The number 9 of this episode occurs in a football referees’ changing room before, during and after a critical final game of the season. Tensions rise between players, mascots and officials in what is the referee’s last game before retirement. David Morrissey is brilliant as the ultra-professional ref attempting to keep control amidst the chaos. Ralf Little also excels as the vain referee’s assistant, with Shearsmith and Pemberton offering fine comedic support. On the main this plays out as a comedy, but there are also serious moments. Indeed, The Referee’s a Wanker explores themes of corruption, gay footballers, and the obsessive win-at-all-costs nature of football fanatics. Fast-paced, funny and containing a great twist, this episode kicked off the season very positively.

Mark: 8 out of 9



EPISODE 2 – DEATH BE NOT PROUD

Cast: Jenna Coleman, Kadiff Kirwan, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Sarah Solemani

This episode was a joy on many levels. Firstly, it was a fantastic mixture of dark comedy and bloody horror. Most significantly, it contained a wonderful series of meta-cultural call backs to Shearsmith’s and Pemberton’s prior work called Psychoville. A grotesque and demented sitcom, Psychoville contained a gallery of crazed characters with many portrayed by Pemberton and Shearsmith. In Death Be Not Proud the opening is quite conventional. Young couple (Jenna Coleman and Kadiff Kirwan) get what they think is a property bargain. However, the flat was host to a grisly murder and something from beyond the grave is tormenting the new tenants. When the previous owner, David Sowerbutts returns things get even weirder. Only then do we learn about the horrific history of this murder home, to sick and hilarious effect.

Mark: 8.5 out of 9



EPISODE 3 – LOVE’S GREAT ADVENTURE

Cast: Steve Pemberton, Debbie Rush, Gaby French, Bobby Schofield, Reece Shearsmith.

Once again displaying fine writing and actorly versatility, Love’s Great Adventure plays out as a straight family drama. It’s of such high quality and hits such emotional and dramatic peaks, TV writers like Paul Abbott, Jimmy McGovern and Jed Mercurio would have been proud to have written it. Cleverly structured around an advent calendar, the Christmas setting adds texture to the financial struggles of one working class family. Trevor (Pemberton) and Julia (Debbie Rush) are devoted to each other, their teenage daughter and grandson who lives with them. They are even prepared to forgive their self-destructive addict son. Set mainly in the kitchen on various days leading up to Christmas day, the events unfold in a subtle, but powerfully realistic manner. These are ordinary, but compelling characters, who prove there is nothing stronger than family love.

Mark: 8.5 out of 9



EPISODE 4 – MISDIRECTION

Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Jill Halfpenny, Fionn Whitehead

One of my favourite ever TV shows is Tales Of The Unexpected and Inside No. 9 certainly owes a debt to that series of twisted genre narratives. Misdirection is a case in point. It is up there with the best Pemberton and Shearsmith plots, as a young student journalist, Fionn Whitehead, interviews Reece Shearsmith’s famous magician. Safe to say that as this is about magic there is much in the way of tricksy turns, bluffs and diversionary tactics. Shearsmith is on brilliant form as the arrogant traditionalist with a dark secret. He criticizes the inelegance of street magicians while a battle of wits ensues with Whitehead’s seemingly naive novice. Echoing the structural and stylish dexterity of Peter Schaffer’s brilliant Sleuth (1972), Misdirection holds all the cards when it comes to being a deviously clever and totally unexpected tale.

Mark: 9 out of 9



EPISODE 5 – THINKING OUT LOUD

Cast: Maxine Peake, Phil Davis, Ionna Kimbrook, Sandra Gayer, Sara Kestelman, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton

Before reviewing this season, I watched every episode twice. I’m glad I did because Inside No. 9 can be complex and pack a lot in thirty minutes. So, it proves in Thinking Out Loud, as we get seven seemingly disparate characters all unconnected. Or so we are led to believe. The episode uses the video diary format, which was something of a popular phenomenon in the 1990s, plus it echoes the “talking heads” style of Alan Bennett. Thus, we get a character in therapy, her therapist, a criminal on death row, a singer, a man suffering from cancer, a man looking for love and an Instagram influencer. All directly address the camera and as we cut between them, their connection slowly filters through until the incredible reveal. Owing much to films like Identity (2003) and Split (2017), this psychological thriller is very crafty with many chilling moments that bear up to multiple viewings.

Mark: 8 out of 9



EPISODE 6 – THE STAKEOUT

Cast: Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith

This virtual two-hander concentrates all of the action within the confines of a police car. Steve Pemberton portrays the jaded and experienced police officer obsessed with finding out who killed his partner. Joining him in the vehicle is new partner, played by Shearsmith. The latter’s character is a Special Constable who seeks to follow the book causing tension on a stakeout during a literal graveyard shift. The two clash over diet, riddles, word-games and police procedure, but over three nights they eventually find mutual respect. The bulk of the episode’s enjoyment comes from Pemberton and Shearsmith’s sparring and their performances are exemplary. The writing is also impressive as it plays with the tropes of the police procedural genre. Finally, it also sets up a suspenseful opening only to confound us by the bloody fiendish denouement.

Mark: 8.5 out of 9



IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 14 REVIEW

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 14 REVIEW

Created by: Rob McElhenney

Developed by: Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton

Writers: Charlie Day, David Hornsby, Megan Ganz, John Howell Harris, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Dannah Phirman, Danielle Schneider, Conor Galvin, etc.

Directors: Glenn Howerton, Heath Cullens, Pete Chatmon, Tim Roche, Kimberly McCullough


CAST

Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly
Glenn Howerton as Dennis Reynolds
Rob McElhenny as Mac
Kaitlin Olson as Dee Reynolds
Danny DeVito as Frank Reynolds

Mary Elizabeth Ellis as The Waitress
David Hornsby as Cricket
Dolph Lundgren as Thundergun

*****MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS, BITCHES!*****



I’ve written about the scurrilous comedy show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia at length here and here and reviewed Season 13 here. It is genuinely one of my favourite TV shows of all time. Moreover, it is always one of the cultural highlights of my year when a new season is released by FX/Netflix. This is the fourteenth season of the show, which now means it is one of the longest running live action comedy sitcoms in the U.S. It’s basically one of the main reasons I carry on living.

If you haven’t seen It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – THEN WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU! No, seriously, it is one of the darkest, funniest and absurd shows I ever seen. It is the Anti-Christ of sitcoms and a twisted anathema to the Friends template. It concerns five narcissistic individuals who run a bar in Philadelphia called Paddy’s, and each episode tracks their weird and wonderful antics. It may not sound like it, but it is comedy gold.

Further, it’s also pretty smart in satirising zeitgeist issues relating to race, gender, politics, friendships, sport, addiction, crime, feminism and sexuality. It is quite often shocking but not just for shock’s sake, because there is a streak of intelligence running throughout the show. Season 13 felt mildly broken because Glenn Howerton seemed to have left, it still had some classic episodes like The Gang Beats Boggs: Ladies Reboot, The Gang Escapes, Mac Finds His Pride and The Gang gets New Wheels. Having said that the Dennis-shaped hole was mostly filled with Glenn Howerton appearing as Dennis in many episodes during last season. This year Howerton is back with in every episode; and he even directed a couple too.



The season opens strongly with the episode The Gang gets Romantic, which essentially involves Dennis and Mac using the Air BNB model to trap an unsuspecting woman in their flat. Frank and Charlie do the same but in a way less sophisticated fashion. Safe to say their creepy plots go badly in very unromantic and different ways. Frank and Charlie at least find some bromance with some European male counterparts, having kicked out some junkie Euro skanks. Episode 2, Thundergun 4: Maximum Cool, then found the Gang in a focus group situation. Here they tore into what they perceived to be political correctness gone mad, diverse Hollywood reboots, a lack of male nudity and the expensiveness of the cinema experience. It’s always chaotic and hilarious when they come into contact with outside agencies; and so it proves to be!

The 3rd and 4th episodes, Dee Day and The Gang Chokes were full of crazy situations. In both episodes Kaitlin Olsen is on particularly great form, as is Danny DeVito in The Gang Chokes. It’s hilarious when he chokes at the dinner table and no one jumps in to help him, forcing him to shun the group and pay back the person who saved his life. The next episode The Gang Texts is one of the highlights of the season. The Gang visit the zoo, but get a text group started to stay in touch. Mac and Dee struggle to retain control amidst the communication problems. While Dennis wants to see a lion feast on flesh, Frank tries to rile the Gorillas by teasing them with bananas. Ultimately, this episode contains the message that it’s best to live in the moment and not on your phone. That and Mac gets pissed on a lot by the others.



The Janitor Always Mops Twice was a hilarious pastiche of film noir genre films. Here Charlie is the private dick investigating a devious cherry racket. Once again Kaitlin Olsen is hilarious as Dee and Mary Elizabeth Ellis appears as a seductive femme fatale who suspiciously looks like the Waitress. The script zings along and there are many classic moments, notably when Charlie mixes cat food in his whisky. In The Gang Solves Global Warming, Paddy Has a Jumper and A Woman’s Right to Chop the series satirises some serious issues with the usual anarchic results. Climate change, suicide, streaming algorithms and abortion are important matters affecting society, but the Gang doesn’t get bogged down too much with the messages. Instead they explore and irreverently barb humanity. The Gang Solves Global Warming was particularly funny as the bar became a microcosm for Earth. A massive party ensues and as the heat rises no one wants to stop the partying even for a second.

The final episode called Waiting for Big Mo is set in a Laser Quest establishment as writer, David Hornsby, cleverly turns it into a curiously florescent parody of Beckett’s seminal play, Waiting for Godot. The Gang are essentially controlled by Dennis who is obsessively sticking to his plan of winning the game. Mac, Charlie, Dee and Frank just want to have fun and play like children. The show examines existential philosophies amidst some hilarious exchanges between the characters, including Charlie not knowing the difference between riddles and jokes. Ultimately, it was a fun, daft, and at times, intelligent end to a very satisfying season of one of the greatest comedy shows of all time.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


SKY COMEDY REVIEW – SICK OF IT (2018 – ) S1 & S2

SKY COMEDY REVIEW – SICK OF IT (2018 -) S1 & S2

Created and Written by: Karl Pilkington and Richard Yee

Directed by: Richard Yee

Cast: Karl Pilkington, Sondra James, Marama Corlett, Cokey Falkow, Lou Sanders, Shola Adewusi, Cavan Clerkin, Finn Bennett and more.

Original Network: Sky One

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**


Image result for sick of it poster karl pilkington

I’m a late developer when it comes to appreciating the Northern homespun charm and philosophies of one-time radio producer, but now TV presenter, writer and actor, Karl Pilkington. I only caught up with his melancholic and eccentric outpourings when I recently listened to recordings of The Ricky Gervais Guide To. . . podcast show, featuring Gervais, Pilkington and Steven Merchant. The two high status comedians basically take a subject and throw themes and shit at Karl Pilkington and he delights them with a mixture of odd, but also weirdly wise rants and musings. Subsequently, I watched the hilarious shows An Idiot Abroad and The Moaning of Life. Then, having decided he was not being bullied and was actually a real person, I firmly emerged a big Karl Pilkington fan.

Pilkington’s first major venture into fictional storytelling, as opposed to crazy and hilarious travel programmes or stooge-like appearances with Gervais and Merchant, is called, appropriately enough, Sick of It. There have been two seasons and twelve entertaining episodes so far screened on Sky television. Karl portrays a downtrodden taxi driver called, wait for it, Karl, who having been dumped by his girlfriend is now living with his Aunt Norma (Sondra James) in Ladbroke Grove, West London. While he has featured in small roles previously, this is Pilkington’s first major acting gig. It’s interesting too as he also plays the part of his own “inner voice”, So, you get two Karl Pilkington’s for the price of one. While not having much range his acting is actually pretty good. Furthermore, he’s a likeable everyman character, both empathetic and droll.

The alter ego or inner voice character is essentially Karl’s self-doubt, insecurity and negativity personified. Only seen by Karl and the audience, he provides some very funny rants throughout the two seasons. Having said that, the writing and performances are strong enough that the show could definitely have worked without the “double” element. To conclude, Sick of It is a bittersweet slice-of-life character comedy, with some very funny episodes. I especially enjoyed the ones where he escapes London to go on holiday or returns to his hometown of Manchester. Lastly, I imagine the show will appeal to Karl Pilkington fans mainly, yet, those who identify with individuals dealing with loss, loneliness, depression, failed romances and the perils of everyday living will find something to enjoy in the show also.

Mark: 8 out of 11

“TOO MUCH TEGRIDY”: SOUTH PARK – SEASON 23 – TV REVIEW

SOUTH PARK – SEASON 23 – TV REVIEW

Directed by: Trey Parker

Produced by: South Park Studios

Written by: Trey Parker

No. of episodes: 10

Release Date: September 25th 2019 – December 11th 2019

UK Release: Comedy Central



Another year passes and another year of South Park! It has now incredibly reached its twenty-third season and the energy, humour, satire and desire to surprise and shock is still very much there in the latest ten episodes. However, I think that in Trey Parker’s desire to reinvent and reinvigorate the format, he seems to have taken a few missteps along the way. Because, while containing some sublime moments of comedy and wonderfully grotesque episodes, the latest season does not consistently reach the heights of previous ones. One could argue this is the weakest season in a long time.

Don’t get me wrong, I am just a humble worker drone and totally respect Trey Parker’s satirical genius. Yet, having worked on South Park for over thirty years Parker has arguably moved the furniture around too much in Season 23. I can understand why he has re-jigged the format, but for me, concentrating mostly on Randy Marsh’s Tegridy Farm enterprise in the first six episodes, many characters we love like Butters, Kyle, Kenny, Mr Garrison, Wendy, and even Cartman are sidelined to mere supporting roles. Of course, they do feature, but not as much as I would have preferred. I guess Parker just wanted a change and in recent seasons this has garnered many fantastic episodes. In Season 23 though, the over reliance and prolonged attempts at stoner and weed humour just did not make me laugh. Plus, Towelie as a comedy character has never worked and I wish he had over-dosed permanently, never to return.

There are some fine comedic moments throughout, and the themes are as strong as ever. Parker takes many satirical swipes at all manner of sociological, political, gender, health, economical and media targets. Through some excellent writing he successfully lampoons: media censorship, China, the anti-vaccine movement, plant-based food, transgenderism in sport, the PC or ‘woke/snowflake’ generation, drug abuse, streaming services, Christmas greed, addiction, drunk drivers, immigration detention centres, and, very briefly, the Trump administration. Ultimately, the season features several very good episodes, but arguably only Band in China and Turd Burglars hit the heights of classic South Park episodes of past seasons. Nonetheless, Trey Parker on autopilot is still one of the greatest writers and comedic voices around. If only he had a little less ‘Tegridy’, this season could have been another classic.

Mark: 8 out of 11


ALL 4 CLASSIC TV REVIEW – “THE COMIC STRIP PRESENTS”

ALL 4 CLASSIC TV REVIEW – “THE COMIC STRIP PRESENTS. . . “

I have been continuing my cultural trawl through the online streaming platform ALL 4, which, if you didn’t know, screens television films and programmes from Channel 4’s roster, past and present. My next port of call was re-watching the twenty-three comedy films – ranging from thirty to six minutes – written and directed by the anarchic comedy collective called The Comic Strip.

The Comic Strip were pioneers of the late 1970s and early 1980’s alternative comedy scene. Much like punk rock did for music, alternative comedy sought to satirise and lampoon the status quo, railing against the capitalist, sexist and homophobic right wing politics of the day. This energetic and crazy comedy troupe consisted of now established comedic and acting luminaries such as: Peter Richardson, Rik Mayall (R.I.P), Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Nigel Planer, Robbie Coltrane, Keith Allen, and Alexei Sayle etc.



Peter Richardson booked and opened the first The Comic Strip show at the Revuebar’s Boulevard Theatre on October 7th 1980. Soon the company had television executives clamouring for these anti-establishment comedic talents. The BBC would soon get Mayall, Planer, Edmondson and Richardson signed up for the anarchic student comedy The Young Ones, and the rest, they say, is comedy history. Richardson would drop out of the classic BBC comedy show, but signed a deal with Channel 4 to write, produce and direct a series of films called The Comic Strip Presents. . .

Channel 4 was a perfect platform for the The Comic Strip as they were a brand new channel whose remit was to provide an alternative creative output to the more traditional British TV channels. Thus, on the launch night of Channel 4 in November 1982, their very first comedy film was released called Five Go Mad in Dorset (1982). Immediately, it caused controversy as the show mercilessly satirised Enid Blyton’s wholesome “Famous Five” with a scurrilous deconstruction of middle-class values. The first series consisted of six short half-hour films and were so successful they would run for another five seasons, plus many comedy specials and feature films too.



The Comic Strip Presents. . . above all else is extremely funny and took many risks in its productions, even to the extent that some episodes verge on avant garde incomprehensibility. The following episodes, however, perfectly marry that punk and anarchic spirit with reasonable narrative and genre cohesion. Well, I say that because I grew up with watching these legendary and always quotable comedy programmes.

To an outsider watching the first time round they may find them, like comedy masterpieces such as Monty Python, Spike Milligan, The Young Ones, The League of Gentleman and The Mighty Boosh, too surreal for their taste. But compared to some of today’s television they can seem quite tame and even dated. Having said that, at the time many of these shows were considered cutting-edge and even “dangerous”, shaking up the conservative complacency with satirical swipes, slapstick parodies, nihilistic irony and genre pastiche.

ALL 4/Channel 4, currently hold twenty-three episodes and I re-watched them all before writing this article. Please be aware that I am aware that there are a number of episodes produced for the BBC before The Comic Strip Presents. . . went back to Channel 4. But it’s at its’ original channel that I am focusing on today. Overall, for me, The Comic Strip Presents. . . is part of my cultural DNA and something I shall always treasure. The opening intro-ident with the bomb falling into the countryside and “Quando, Quando, Quando” playing is as iconic as it comes. Anyway, enough of the talking bollocks, here are some of their programmes I recommend you watch immediately!



BAD NEWS TOUR (1983) / MORE BAD NEWS (1988)

Two riotously funny fly-on-the-wall mockumentaries about the infamous British rock band, Bad News!


DIRTY MOVIE (1984)

Rik Mayall features as a slimy cinema-owner who wants to watch a porno in his cinema, in this silly, post-modern slapstick classic.


EDDIE MONSOON – A LIFE? (1984)

Adrian Edmondson stars as suicidal TV producer Eddie Monsoon, facing both financial and mental ruin.


THE BULLSHITTERS (1984)

British TV action show The Professionals is mercilessly lampooned with Keith Allen and Peter Richardson as tough-guy cops, Bonehead and Foyle.


THE STRIKE (1988)

Brilliant comedy which satirises the Hollywood adaptation of the British Miner’s Strike; starring Al Pacino (Peter Richardson) as Arthur Scargill!


MR JOLLY LIVES NEXT DOOR (1988)

Genuinely one of the funniest comedy films ever made, with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson as Dreamytime Escorts! Together they have to “take out” Nicholas Parsons and cause mayhem in the process.


FOUR MEN IN A CAR (1998) / FOUR MEN IN A PLANE (2000)

Hilarious comedies about four salesmen out on the road who argue and conflict all the time. In each episode they manage to get themselves stranded on the motorway and in a barren desert.


BBC3 COMEDY REVIEW – THIS COUNTRY (2017 – 2019)

BBC3 COMEDY REVIEW – THIS COUNTRY (2017 – 2019)

Created by: Daisy May Cooper & Charlie Cooper

Written by: Daisy May Cooper & Charlie Cooper

Directed by: Tom George

Producer: Simon Mayhew-Archer

Cast: Daisy May Cooper, Charlie Cooper, Paul Cooper, Paul Chahidi

Original Network: BBC Three

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

“I am Jack’s bitter, failed arsehole!”

In Chuck Palahniuk’s contemporary literary classic Fight Club – and the movie version – the narrator often refers to a third person called, ‘Jack’, to describe inner rage. It’s a nifty narrative device and kind of a foot-in-the-door to explain my feelings when watching BBC3 mockumentary series This Country. Because having watched the two series and extended one-off special I have to say I didn’t get the joke and I’m thinking it must be me and not the show.

Perhaps it’s my ongoing sobriety? I mean, while the acting is sublime, I could not work out why this comedy series has received so much critical praise. Moreover, I could not work out how it has won several Royal Television Society and BAFTA awards. I will perhaps have to accept I am wrong and know nothing about comedy and the television industry. I am just a bitter, failed arsehole.

This Country is a rural sitcom in the mockumentary style. Thus, first and foremost, while it’s nearly impossible to achieve originality in TV and film, the show is derivative of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s classic comedy, The Office. While Gervais was influenced by the Christopher Guest-led ensemble genius of, This is Spinal Tap (1984), one cannot escape the fact This Country is a weaker clone of The Office.

Episodes revolve around an accurate rendition of rural life; somewhere not too far from Swindon, Wiltshire. Comedy and drama derives from issues relating to: boredom, crime, unemployment, failed romances, general village idiot-types and very dysfunctional families. The main protagonists are Kerry and Lee ‘Kurtan’ Mucklowe; cousins in the show but portrayed incisively by siblings, Daisy and Charlie Cooper. In fact, the actors are way more likeable than the characters they portray. Kerry and Kurtan are so moronic and obnoxious at times it was difficult to empathise with them.

It is a testament to the precise conveyance of village life that the programme felt believable as an actual documentary. Unfortunately, for me, the pace was quite slow and, while I guess that was the point, there are only so many dry pauses-for-comedic-effect you can experience without getting bored. Similarly, with the “realistic” pace, punchlines often felt very spaced out, with a reliance on the accents to get the laughs.

There are a number of strong episodes including, Kurtan’s attempts to win a scarecrow contest and also when he worked on a building site. Yet, certain episodes never really went anywhere as character development also suffered inertia in the narrative. Having said that, there is some excellent writing. Daisy’s doomed relationship with her bastard of a father, Martin, does lend a depth and pathos to the narrative. But this is more dramatic than funny overall. Then again, I accept that this is just the opinion of a bitter, sober and over-analytical arsehole and some may find this the funniest show on television.

Mark: 7 out of 11

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – DEREK (2013 – 2014)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – DEREK (2013 – 2014)

Created, written and directed by: Ricky Gervais

Producer: Charlie Hanson

Cast: Ricky Gervais, Kerry Godliman, David Earl, Karl Pilkington, Brett Goldstein, Colin Hoult, Holli Dempsey, Ruth Bratt, Arthur Nightingale, Doc Brown, Joe Wilkinson etc.

Original Network: Channel 4

**MAY CONTAINS SPOILERS**

So, let’s address the elephant in the room with my review of ALL 4/Netflix bittersweet comedy, Derek. Is it acceptable for a person to seemingly inhabit the character of someone who could be perceived to be mentally challenged or disabled? Not forgetting, the person is a successful TV writer/actor, Ricky Gervais. After all we’re in a progressive age where it is right to be sensitive of perceptions and reactions to the representations of people of colour, religion, race, heritage and mental capacity. Is it in poor taste for Ricky Gervais to ultimately, get seemingly cheap laughs out of a gurning, simple man?

Well, on the surface and initial watch Derek, could be deemed offensive for reasons of poor taste. However, having watched series one, two and the final hour-long special for the third time, I have decided that, while it may have puerile and childish humour, Gervais has created a positive, and in some cases, heroic role model who promotes kindness to the elderly, animals, friends and basically everyone, whether they are horrible or not. The comedy and pathos derive not simply from cheap shots, but, organically from a set of outsiders and forgotten people inhabiting a care home. Lastly, Gervais is a talented actor and while he’s no Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot (1989), his character of Derek Noakes is a genuinely fine human being worth spending time with.

Moving past the controversial issues of taste the most important question remains: is Derek funny? Well, it is both funny and very moving, encompassing themes relating to life, death, grief, romance, love, redemption, depression and memory. Set in a care called Broad Hill it features a collection of disparate ensemble of characters who are existentially trapped within their day-to-day lives. These include hard-working Hannah (Kerry Godliman), gruff handyman, Dougie (Karl Pilkington), alcoholic wastrel, Kev (David Earl), and the titular, Derek. Furthermore, the care home becomes a haven for characters doing community service such as Vicky (Holli Dempsey) and of course the elderly residents who are cared for at Broad Hill.

Shot in Gervais’ often used mockumentary style, each episode unfolds in a gentle slice-of-life style as the Broad Hill employees go about their business. A common theme running through the series is the pressure the staff, notably Hannah, find themselves under looking after old people who have been dumped by their family and society at large. Moreover, the children or grandchildren of the residents are mostly represented as greedy, callous or self-absorbed. Gervais has commented that the show is a tribute to family members who worked in care homes and Derek succeeds in that context.

In representing the working classes and societal outsiders, Derek also works very well. I’ll be honest there is some easy humour to be had from the sexual perversity and drunken antics of Kev, portrayed with greasy acumen by David Earl. However, in Season 2, Kevin’s sad decline comes into focus as his alcoholism causes his health to fail and the friends he has alienated have tough choices to make. Nonetheless, the comedic interactions between Pilkington, Gervais, Earl and Kerry Godliman are priceless. These, plus Brett Goldstein as Hannah’s boyfriend, Tom, are all gifted performers and they shine throughout the episodes.

Gervais faced much critical controversy when Derek was first released. But having watched it again I actually think this was undeserved. Derek is not a figure of fun but rather a complex human being and richly empathetic character. If you find it offensive or do not enjoy Gervais’ performance then I understand that. Ultimately though, the series has some childish humour such as characters writing obscenities on crabs at the seaside, Dougie’s stupid hair, and Kev crapping himself at a staff meeting. However, it also has some fine comedic set-pieces as occurs when Derek, Dougie and Kevin put on a play about Duran Duran at a talent night. Plus, the scene where Kev and Derek try and sell their autographs of “famous” people is pure comedy gold.

Overall, Derek is a life-affirming comedy full of eccentric characters on the fringe of society. Somehow, they all band together to create this weird dysfunctional but very caring family. It’s a show about life, death, gain, loss and the human spirit. Moreover, through Derek’s homespun philosophical musings we get a lot of simple, yet effective life lessons. Yes, it’s full of toilet and school-playground humour, and at times is really mawkish and sentimental, but it is also full of heart and poignancy all performed by a fantastic ensemble cast.

Mark: 9 out of 11