Unimpressed by Derek

I hated the finale of Derek. It made me angry. I was so angry that I fumed around my apartment for several minutes cursing Ricky Gervais. TV shows don’t usually inflict me with anger, but after I had a chance to calm myself down I realized what made me so mad: after watching the first three episodes of Derek (which I had been heartily impressed by), I had expected the conclusion of the show to be so much better. It easily could have been, but Ricky Gervais made some poor choices.

Ricky, you made me so mad that I’m going to shout.

What happened to the conflict?!? Nothing much happens in the last 4 episodes of Derek. Ricky, why did you drop all the interesting storylines? What about the home not being able to fund itself? What about Hannah’s issues with her boyfriend? What about the ungrateful children of the residents? What about Victoria, the teenage aid who had to do community service, who in working at the care facility finally found a place where she was needed? Will we get to see how those stories play out?

Nope. All those interesting stories that were started in episodes 1, 2, and 3 are handily dropped. I understand that the show intends to show the sadness and beauty of normal, mundane life, but stories need conflict. There was so much potential in the stories started at the beginning of the series. Instead, on the second half of the series, the show treads familiar, proven territory. In episode 4, the gang goes to the beach and there is a new ungrateful daughter. In episode 5, the gang puts on a show and there is a new young person doing community service (for the exact same crime, mind you) who needs to learn life lessons.

Constantly, new characters are introduced and the emotional cache we built with the old characters is forgotten. In the finale episode, a resident dies. She has been in the series since the pilot and her death is a sad one. But, instead of exploring this woman’s life (spoiler, it’s Lizzie) we are introduced for the first time to her husband, who tells the tale of how he spent his life in love with her. It could have been nice, but it felt like we were ignoring Lizzie, the character we had spent 6 episodes with already in favour of this new guy who was introduced last minute.

So, I have to shout this: be true to your characters!

Why, in episode 6, your series finale, is Hannah, one of your main characters, reduced to a foil for Derek? All she does is nag Derek, “Are you sure you don’t want to see your dad?” Where did Hannah’s anger go? Dougie’s annoyance with Derek? Why did the bad elements of all the characters slowly fade? These characteristics made your characters unique. I loved Dougie’s anger at people who filled their rooms with “shit.” I related to that. The characters I saw in episode 6 were pale, anemic versions of the characters I saw in episode 1. The characters I saw in episode 6 were there to serve Derek’s plot only, and as a result, were not given their proper due.

Also, does anyone buy that Kev is so self aware that he can admit he has mental issues? This is the man who shat his pants in episode 2.

You can’t segue way from that.

Show, don’t tell!

A large portion of the finale episode was interviews with the characters. The “interviewer” was asking them very personal questions and they were answering truthfully. Only, it didn’t feel truthful. There was nothing about the episode to suggest that the characters would be inclined to spill their guts like that. Ok, sure, they were at a funeral so perhaps they were contemplating the meaning of life, but the hard fact is they go to funerals all the time. Why now? It felt as though Gervais wanted to make sure we felt certain emotions, and didn’t trust us to figure it out for ourselves. So instead, he had his characters tell us what to feel.

This is the fact that made me so mad. Ricky didn’t trust us with his story. Instead of showing us a complex story and allowing us to feel things naturally (like in the first 3 episodes of the series), in the home stretch of the series, he hammered his points home with clique story elements, dialogue that was didactic and Coldplay montages. Two Coldplay montages.

Now, there was one moment in the finale that really worked for me. For all the harping the characters do about how great Derek is, nothing they say can compare to actually seeing it. After an episode of refusing to see his father, the episode ends with Derek jumping out of the car and running to hug his dad. Derek just has to do the right thing. He wouldn’t feel good any other way. It was a really lovely moment that was both expected but still surprising. The stuff good stories are made of.

But, at the risk of being a terrible person, that brings me to my last point. Why is the show so intent on making you feel like Derek is the only kind one? Hannah and Dougie are just as kind. To put it into perspective, at her job, Hannah looks after 22 elderly residents, plus watches out for, feeds and entertains 3 middle age men who are socially mal-adjusted. Dougie lives with a mentally challenged man and watches out for him 24/7. Dougie allows this man (Derek) to bring in his mentally challenged, homeless friend (Kev) into Dougie’s home and allows Kev to sleep on his floor… Everyone on the show is kind. It’s silly to pretend that Derek is the only one, and the finale literally said that, “Derek has it right. He took the only shortcut that works. Kindness.” By telling me what to feel, all the show made me feel was stupid that I wasn’t trusted to figure that out myself.

I’d like to take this moment to say that Kerri and I spoke at length about Derek, and  I probably stole ideas from her for this piece. I can’t remember, so if I did, “Thanks Kerri!”

2 thoughts on “Unimpressed by Derek

  1. Pingback: Impressed by Derek | The Golden Age of Television

  2. Pingback: Clip Show | The Golden Age of Television

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