Saturday, 14 April 2012

Let’s hope Ricky Gervais’s “Derek” marks the decline of cringe comedy

I roared at I’m Alan Partridge. I loved The Office. I enjoyed Extras. I laughed at (bits of) Borat. The Thick Of It and The Day Today were two of my all-time favourite comedy programmes. What distinguished all of them were witty scripts and great comic acting. But, overall, I've grown tired of "Cringe Comedy" - the sort that places too much reliance on embarrassing or shocking laughter out of us. Put simply, horsey's been to that particular well far too often during the past two decades.

From what I’ve seen of Gervais’s TV shows over the past few years, they’ve been pretty awful – tasteless and smug and shot through with nastiness. His appearances in Hollywood films have all been dreadful. I’ve never liked his live shows – he doesn’t possess sufficient charm to bring them off, as he has demonstrated in a number of truly repellent turns as an awards ceremony host.

Simple Jack
But, at last, the man has once again done something that doesn’t make you want to slap his pudgy face. Okay, I realise that watching Ricky Gervais playing a slightly retarded man who works in a retirement home sounds about as appealing as an evening with Gordon Brown, and when I saw the promos for the programme, I groaned. Was he determined to make us all hate him by compounding his insistence on using the term “mong” with a full-blooded assault on the mentally challenged? Or was he attempting to get back into our good books by doing a Simple Jack, going “full retard” (fans of the wonderful Tropic Thunder will get the allusion) and proving what a caring chap he is behind that dislikeable exterior?

Besides, didn’t Paul Whitehouse once do a sketch about the screen’s penchant for “cute retarded” characters (Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Peter Sellers in Being There etc)? It was once as sure a way of picking up an Oscar as appearing in a Holocaust movie seems to be nowadays (a phenomenon which Gervais lampooned in Extras with Kate Winslett, who, as we all know, subsequently went on to pick up an Oscar for starring in a Holocaust film).

Well, having heard mixed reports, I decided to watch Derek on 4OD. Not only didn’t I cringe even once, I laughed out loud several times and – hell, I’ll admit it – got rather teary once or twice. Gervais gives a terrific, sensitive, rounded and very believable performance. You can catch it here on 4OD for the next month.

What really stands out is the gentleness of Gervais’s script - his sheer affection for all the main characters, including (for a change) the old folk. In a funny way its tone reminded me of that lovely comedy series Miranda. In fact, vicious TV comedy is becoming notable by its increasing absence from our screens. The success of Outnumbered, Gavin & Stacey and Not Going Out (none of which, I have to admit, I’ve watched more than once, but all of which appear to be quite funny and inoffensive) and the markedly lower profiles of Frankie Boyle, Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand and Sacha Baron Cohen suggest that British adults have simply grown tired of laughing at the intolerant viciousness of ageing performers determined to continue behaving like surly, smart-arsed teenagers well into old age.

Maybe the reason for the diminution of foul-mouthed unpleasantness is that 15-24 year olds can find all the smutty, snarly, hate-filled stuff they need on the internet. If so, that’s fine by the rest of us!

I’m sure rampant “comedy” unpleasantness will be back on our screens before too long – the next generation of thirty-something TV commissioning editors will no doubt be champing at the bit to show how relevant and happening and edgy and down with the kidz and not growing middle-aged at all they are by green-lighting something really repulsive – but, in the meantime, let’s just enjoy the lull.

1 comment:

  1. tasteless and smug and shot through with nastiness - says it all. Gervais gets worse as time goes by.