New series of Derek begins

Ricky Gervais as Derek

Ricky Gervais’ comedy/drama Derek returned to UK television last week, this time for a full series. The pilot had apparently been controversial for some, but I just remember being pleasantly surprised by Gervais’ kind but coarse treatment of delicate issues such as disability and the care profession. He did so in a way that was both heartwarming, without ever becoming saccharine, and simple, without ever being boring. A lot of critics seemed unconvinced, but I think they were missing the point, assuming that Gervais was either taking cheap shots at vulnerable people, or that he was attempting some sort of ‘clever’ post-modern ‘so-shit-its-cool’ maneuver.  But this is a sitcom only in the loosest definition of the term, and the only people Gervais is deliberately mocking, are those who get offended mainly as a cover for their own thinly-veiled prejudices. I read a rather scathing review of Derek in The Daily Telegraph today. Nuff said.

The first episode had me laughing out loud a few times, it is definitely very funny – but as with the pilot, the new material is as much to do with empathy as it is to do with cracking jokes. Maybe this is where some of the show’s critics are left wanting. They don’t seem to understand that Gervais is taking the piss out of them. He’s having a go at how, when we see someone we perceive to be different to ourselves, we feel the need to categorise them, and that that category can stop us seeing them as real people – with interests, passions, quirks, humour and emotion.

Coupled with his genuine love for the character, it is palpable that Gervais has created Derek in order to get across his statement about society’s attitudes. When the pilot of this show aired in Spring 2012, a lot of people (critics and newspaper columnists in particular) speculated that the character is Autistic – something which Gervais has denied in the press previously (stating in an interview with The Sun in March last year, ‘I’ve never thought of him as disabled’) and which he brazenly referenced towards the end of the first episode of this series. When a Council representative visiting the retirement home insensitively questioned Derek as to whether he had ever been tested for Autism, Derek offered a stream of questions about what would happen, should he be Autistic, such as, ‘Would I die?’, ‘Would I have to go into a hospital?’ and ‘Would it change me in any way as a person?’. Having received a ‘no’ to all of these queries, our eponymous hero simply said ‘Don’t worry about it then’. In this small dialogue, which lasted no more than a minute, Gervais perfectly summed up his feelings: so what if Derek is Autistic? Can’t we just enjoy him for the unassuming, kind-natured person he so clearly is without questioning whether he has a disorder or not? For Gervais to reply to his critics so concisely through the mouth of Derek was perfect and ingenious. From: http://uktvreviewer.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/derek-episode-1-1-review/

Gervais isn’t scared of getting political either – the main theme of the first installment is public sector cuts. The care home is threatened with closure due to shrinking budgets, and Gervais does a very good job of humanizing this modern problem. It makes for compelling viewing and a very effective strike against this current trend for passing the world’s economic woes onto those who struggle to look after themselves.

All of the characters in Derek represent those at the very bottom of the modern economic food chain –  low-paid public sector workers, the disabled, the elderly, the poor and the unemployed – sections of our communities that have been hit hardest by the Tories’ austerity drive, and subsequently demonized by politicians to justify the attack. Derek forms a much needed antidote to this insidious propaganda, and does so simply by being gentle and honest.

Derek is by no means perfect, and some of the criticisms that have been made of it in other reviews are justified – but I would counter that by noting many may be slamming it because they don’t like the politics. Empathy may be a dirty word now in Tory Britain, but this show is chock full of it – which is exactly why I like it.

Check the first episode out here on 4od:

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/derek/4od

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Tony Benn gives BBC a bollocking over Gaza

The Revolution Will Be Televised

The Revolution WILL Be Televised (Screenshot)
The Revolution Will Be Televised vs. George Osbourne

New BBC comedy series The Revolution Will Be Televised is actually rather good! Like Dom Joly with some more balls, or the Love Police with actual jokes; it is great anarchic fun for all the family, down to earth but with a surprisingly satirical left-wing edge.

Recommended light relief for all those suffering from Tory-itis in these challenging times. If you can’t beat em, laugh at em 😉

Episodes should be up on iPlayer for a few weeks I would’ve thought – here’s a link to their BBC page

Big up the beeb! (and I don’t say that very often)

Assange interviews the President of Ecuador

Why Comedians?

Jimmy Carr is "morally wrong" says local demon

In the wake of the current onslaught against first, Jimmy Carr, and now Frankie Boyle for exploiting tax loopholes, the obvious question is why are comedians bearing the brunt of the flack against this endemic practice? Whether or not they are guilty of “moral” crimes (as David Cameron, of all people, would have it) ignorance or just “thrift” – neither of them had broken the law as it currently stands, but simply “managed” their accounts using the same old methods rich people have been using for generations. Creative accountancy is booming business and tax evasion is nothing new. Cameron’s own family fortune was made in tax havens. So is it one rule for big business and another for the rest of us? Why call comedians out for their financial activities when it is so common place among all the wealthy? Is it because they are accused of hypocrisy – undermining the moral high ground they appear to take in their performances? Are they just being called out to set an example because they are household names? Or is it just plain old mudslinging?

Arguably comedians have greater sway over public opinion than most politicians these days, and that may make them a legitimate target on the political playing field. Both Carr and Boyle have been critical of the government and the right-wing media in the past, and both are very popular performers, potentially influencing the opinions of millions of voters. Satire is still one of the most effective weapons against authority, and maybe it is beginning to be treated as such by those who wish to maintain the status quo, and those who have the most to lose in a swing to the left – people like The Daily Mail and David Cameron – the very people lining up to sling the mud. I very much doubt that this is a coincidence – either way it seems very convenient for them!

Frankie Boyle hit back at the allegations in The Daily Mail, tweeting:

“Amazed to read a Daily Mail story that is bollocks. Whatever next? I’m going to stick up the details as soon as my accountant wakes up.”

and

“From 2007 I have paid £2.7million in tax and this equates to just under 40% of my income. 1/5”

and

“I am certain I pay more tax than most people in show business and the cabinet. 5/5”

I propose, if this new wave of investigating comedian’s bank accounts is to continue, that the same should take place for all those who work at (and own) The Daily Mail group, the cabinet and every single Tory MP in the houses of parliament. Anything less would be grossly unfair to comedians. Now let’s see whose shirt is clean…

Reflections on another Black Mirror

Black Mirror 2 - 15 Million Merits

The second installment of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror leads us to another implausibly grim vision of the future, but the main difference between The National Anthem and 15 Million Credits, is that the latter is actually rather good.

Co-written by Kanak ‘Konnie’ Huq (of Blue Peter fame) and directed by Euros Lyn (Doctor Who), this modern fable is a surprisingly entertaining glimpse at a possible future dystopia. We can only guess that what unfolds is society’s answer to the impending energy crisis, as people are put to work on millions of exercise bikes to fuel a hi-tech, computerised existence, obsessed with mindless entertainment and online living – distractions from their slavery.

The plot is much more emotive and engaging than the first episode, with characters you actually care about and everything – and it does what all great satire should do, which is to push the current way of things to the extreme, in order to reveal some hidden truths about their nature.

It’s also really heartening to see some proper Science Fiction back on the television. The best Sci-Fi uses the future to tell us about the present, and 15 Million Credits does this better than most. Its exploration of the cruelty innate within Reality TV shows like The X Factor is undertaken by pushing them further in that direction. Its subversion of the idea that social networks somehow bring us closer together, its parody of throwaway digital culture, web advertising and online pornography and its use of a Microsoft Points-style credit system in place of a currency – all have deep sociological and psychological resonances with the new ways we have begun to live our lives through technology.

Black Mirror’s dark future is like our own world with the volume turned up, and what is reflected back is not a pretty picture. Most worrying of all is how the technology is used to placate us, used to make the population do the bidding of the powers-that-be, by removing people’s freedom of choice and disempowering them, while making them believe they are actually getting exactly what they want. In full high definition. Just keep peddling and saving up those credits and all your dreams will come true, citizen. It’s the same lie we’ve always been told, and the black mirror of the ubiquitous LCD screen reflects both that, and a ghostly wan imitation of our vitamin D-deprived faces. Now plug in, shut up and resume viewing.

This is a very clever caricature of our increasingly digital world, the full consequences of which, we are still oblivious to. Let’s just hope Brooker and Huq’s vision of a malevolent force behind the network is just another dark fantasy and not a true sign of things to come.

Can’t wait for next one now…

Watch On 4OD

On Thin Ice

David Attenborough's Frozen Planet

I recently read online that the final episode of David Attenborough’s latest epic, Frozen Planet, would not be shown in the US or China due to it’s apparently “controversial” angle on climate change.

On Thin Ice says nothing we haven’t already heard a million times about the polar icecaps melting – but it tells the story with amazing pictures of global warming’s effects on these regions, a calm and concerned narrative by Attenborough, and a lot of incontrovertible evidence. This was too much for some it would seem.

The BBC defended it’s decision to sell the series to 30 countries as a six-parter, with the 7th episode missing – stating that this was due to a difference in style rather than content (bullshit).

The good news is that Discovery Channel has backtracked under public pressure, and has now decided to show On Thin Ice on the US network, after a Change.org petition gathered 84,000 signatures complaining about this apparent censorship. Discovery Channel denies that the petition had any influence on their decision (more bullshit).

The episode itself is awesome. I watched it last night on BBC iPlayer and it is the best in the series in my opinion. It should still be available there to watch for viewers in the UK. Check it out