Category Archives: TV & Film Analysis

Youngers: Series 1 (2013)

Youngers (ep.01-08)

Created by Benjamin Kuffuor & Levi David Addai

Youngers

When I saw E4 advertise their latest teen drama I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hesitant. Creating a believable teen drama is extremely difficult and if you haven’t got gross out comedy as seen in The Inbetweeners or a renowned reputation seen with Skins it will prove difficult to achieve anything above average. With Youngers being a pre-watershed fixture I was slowly losing confidence in a series which could prove fruitful and inspiring for the youths of today. However, I gave the series a go and I am glad to say it was extremely impressive, with many debut/unknown actors and using the urban city surroundings of London, the series captured me from beginning to end and creators Benjamin Kuffuor and Levi David Addai produced a bold and engaging 8 part series that they should be proud of.

The story follows two best mates Jay (Calvin Demba) and Yemi (Ade Oyefeso) who aspire to be successful in the music industry. Both find liberation in music and they produce their own rap music in the realms of Yemi’s bedroom in a multi-storey flat in the heart of London. Yemi, who is a talented producer, is extremely clever. His family take his schoolwork very seriously and the first episodes witnesses Yemi recieving his GCSE results which he passes with flying colours scoring A’s across the board. On the other hand there is Jay. He is egotistic, cocky and some would say charming. Not caring much for his schoolwork and with little pressure from his Dad, who promises him a job in the family business (plumbing), he glides through life without caring for any consequences his actions might result in.

As the series runs its course, Yemi finds Davina (Shavani Seth) at his new college. She is an exceptional singer and as the two form a close bond and introductions to the gang take place ‘Youngers’ the rap group is born and they begin their musical endeavours. With the help of Ashley (Arinze Kene), a notorious and respected resident of their London estate, they slowly start to make a name for themselves in a city where teenagers can be the harshest of critics.

Youngers 2

One of the most impressive aspects of the Youngers series was Calvin Demba’s performance as Jay. Having only featured in Hollyoaks and Casualty prior to his casting his performance is impeccable. He undertakes the character Jay with uncompromising ease and improved with every episode as his character became  more layered than any other around him. Reminiscent of Jack O’Connell’s character, Cook in the Skins series, he carries that air of authority as he engages differently with every character around him. With his womanizing antics and ‘jack the lad’ attitude it was highly satisfying seeing Demba’s character evolve and make Jay his own. I only hope he goes onto bigger things after the series ends.

As a summation Kuffuor and Addai should take pride in their work. The series challenges friendship groups, social classes, urban backgrounds and the lack of opportunity in the rough areas of London. Besides being a comedy drama it tackles serious issues with a comedic undertone. This works well and even though at times it is corny, especially the ‘mandem on the wall’, largely it is convincing and sincere. Its story line is not so outlandish it edges towards impossibility but conservative and resilient focusing on the smaller struggles within the Youngers social group as they all aspire towards one thing, success.

Catch it on 4oD here: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/youngers/4od

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Fight Club (1999): Consumerism & Capitalism

Fight Club (1999)

Dir.: David Fincher

Cast: Edward Norton; Brad Pitt; Helena Bonham Carter

Fight Club 5

***SPOILERS***

David Fincher’s, Fight Club (1999), is arguably one of the most discussed films in modern cinema. With many intricate thematic levels and powerful performances it amalgamates into a fantastic mixture of beautiful carnage. Edward Norton playing a middle-American in a dead-end job is juxtaposed with Hollywood heart throb and free spirit Brad Pitt who enters Norton’s world which has been disillusioned by the American Dream and bound by the capitalistic machine that controls his life. I’m going to delve deeper into Fight Club and analyse what message Fincher’s film is ultimately portraying.

Consumerism

Jack/The Narrator is played by the brilliant Edward Norton (for the sake of this article I will refer to him as Jack). A year after American History X (1998), where he played a revolutionary white supremacist and gained around 30 pounds in weight, he is back playing a typical office worker stuck in the middle class of society unable to progress or loosen the strings of the consumerist world he lives in. Suffering from insomnia and the repetitive daily grind , Jack is obsessed with his consumerist wants and needs. Filling his room with IKEA furniture and drinking Starbuck’s coffee he is the epitome of consumer culture being fooled by the corporations that rely on the public to, ‘work[ing] jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need’, as Brad Pitt so eloquently phrases it. This is where Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, comes in. The free-spirit, that is Tyler, represents everything Jack wants to be. Not phased by the consumer lifestyle, Tyler is liberated by all the things Jack finds himself so accustomed to. Or once again, in Tyler’s rhetoric, ‘I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I’m free in all the ways that you are not’. 

Fight Club

Tyler’s nihilistic influence results in Jack finding himself becoming independent and free of these constraints he was attached to before and the establishment of the Fight Club’s enable him to feel liberated. Satisfying this primal urge allows him to break free of the consumerist lifestyle that dictates what is and what is not acceptable in society. Tyler has allowed him to disconnect from his pre-occupied life and it questioned Jack’s livelihood, was he was satisfied being a product of the corporations? Consumerism in Fight Club is all about a loss of individuality and ultimately breaking away from this lifestyle we are all supposedly meant to abide by.

However, many critics argue that Fight Club is extremely contradictive when it comes to its consumerist message. How can you have an A-list Hollywood star like Brad Pitt arguing against consumerism when he is the physical embodiment of what they are selling to society? Pitt is the product of consumerism. David O’Heir stated: “…there’s something more than a little ludicrous about sitting in a theater while Brad Pitt preaches at you about the emptiness of materialism.” It is certainly sinister when Jack and Tyler catch a bus and ultimately degrade everything materialism stands for and ridiculing a Gucci advert with a guy wearing only pants and Jack asks Tyler, ‘Is that what a man looks like?, which in response Tyler chuckles and states ‘Self improvement is masturbation’.

Fight Club 2We know that Pitt himself has featured in similar marketing campaigns so this is so unbelievably ironic it is laughable. Despite this, I believe there is a purpose to doing this. ‘Pitt is a perfect Tyler’ (Jesse Kalvado – The Fiction of Self Destruction) as he offers comic irony that allows the audience to understand that this is a satirical stab at such marketing campaigns. Pitt’s employment offers a wonderful dichotomy between consumerism and individuality. Jack represents the potentialities of the consumerist lifestyle and it’s anarchic result as he becomes Tyler to carry out Project Mayhem. Fight Club highlights the emasculation of man as he has become the ‘by-products of a lifestyle obsession’ and the result is Jack, a representation of a modern day American man in society. Project Mayhem leads to the destruction of these corporations and from there leads the attack on capitalism.

Capitalism

Capitalism is a prominent theme in Fight Club. It systematically attacks the corporations and social infrastructure Jack is living, through Tyler and his non-conformist nihilistic ideologies. With civil rights movements and the uprise of LEDC’s (lower economically developed countries), the 90’s-00’s was very much a time of transition and confusion in America with many of the professionals, such as Jack, falling through the cracks and being overlooked by the American government and the idealistic American Dream. Feeling like they have authority the middle class workers, like Jack, are still owned by their bosses and there is a venomous anger towards the society that failed them which is a direct effect of capitalistic movements. This view is explicitly expressed by Tyler:

“We’re the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we’ve been all raised by television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t and we’re slowly learning that fact and we’re very very pissed off.”

Fight Club 3

There was a repressed rage in America ‘as well as frustration over the collapse of the American Dream’ (John McCullough). Fight Club is progressive as it leads to a violent reaction to the system. The Fight Club’s that are setup are not glamourising violence, there are no winners or losers. Fincher does not glorify the violence through the art-house aesthetics but it’s pure and ‘real’. Borrowing techniques from social realism, the pain seems all too real and the dark red blood is vivid, almost Tarantino-Esq as it splatters on the cold concrete floor. This realism makes the pain seem legitimate just as it is for these hard working American men stuck in their role that has been assigned to them. These issues are not unique either, Fight Club’s popularity highlights that these problems do exist and despite the personal story of Jack it is scattered with references to the broader society, it is a serious comment on the lifestyle Jack lives.

Henry Giroux, a film critic who adamantly rejects Fight Club as a film that positively highlights the issues it tackles, suggests it does not support its arguments against capitalism in a comprehensible manner: ‘Representations of violence, masculinity, and gender in Fight Club seem all too willing to mirror the pathology of individual and institutional violence that informs American landscape’ – he argues that Project Mayhem degrades any argument it attempts to make through Tyler’s hierarchy. Tyler preaches that to become liberated by consumerism and capitalism you must become individual. Yet when the ‘Space Monkeys’ join Project Mayhem they lose their hair and name, similar to that of being institutionalised or recruited to the army. Once again this is seemingly contradictive by Fincher.

However, I argue that when Jack realises what is becoming of Project Mayhem he begins to question Tyler’s ideologies. These men have been brainwashed just as Jack was in the beginning of the film in his autonomous state. With their repetitive phrase ‘You do not talk about Project Mayhem’ and ‘In Tyler we trust’, Jack becomes sick of Tyler and his army to the point where he knows it has become too much. When Jack finally reacts to Tyler’s destructiveness and shoots himself, thus killing Tyler, he rejects any ideology that was presented to be nihilistic. Palahnuik, the novelist, uses Jack’s rejection of Tyler to portray this disestablishment in Project Mayhem and with no leader the terrorist organisation will not continue. Jack has conquered the nihilistic demons inside of him and repressed Tyler’s ideologies altogether.

Fight Club 4

This film is highly suggestive on many levels and these issues have been widely discussed and sometimes dismissed, but I feel it would be almost impossible to overlook there purpose when analysing Fight Club. The major corporations in this world hold so much power in a monopolistic society the manipulative effects are evident throughout daily life and this film truly highlights the dangerous effects consumerism can have. A film that focuses on social, political and economics issues will always face ridicule as Fight Club has but exploring the deeper meaning has given me a closer insight into the effects of cinema and the discussion that can be created by this powerful medium.

This is the first part in a two part Fight Club anaylsis, the next section will be on Feminism and Nihilism, which will hopefully be up in the coming weeks.

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Utopia: Series 1 (2013)

Utopia (ep.01-06)

Written by Dennis Kelly

Utopia

***SPOILERS***

Earlier this year saw Dennis Kelly’s imaginative, Utopia, hit UK television sets and keep audiences gripped for the full 6 episodes. The series followed a group of geeks who met via. internet all searching for the meaning of the Utopia manuscript but soon found themselves tangled in a world full of conspiracy. The series highlights a number issues that society are presently faced with including; overcrowding, the depletion of non-renewable resources and the potential battle for food as prices continue to rise. The shady organisation known as The Network believe they have found a solution which will have harrowing effects on the world and the results will be incalculable. However, with the intervention of the group of geeks, they find themselves in a race against time to get hold of the valuable manuscript.

The series starts with, Becky (Alexandra Roach), Ian (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), Wilson Wilson (Adeel Akhtar) and young Grant (Oliver Woollford) coming together through an internet blog which focuses on the prized manuscript which is rumoured to have predicted all the world disasters in the last century. Unbeknown to them, this manuscript is highly sought after by a dangerous organisation called The Network. The first mystery comes with ‘Arby’ (Neil Maskell) hunting for ‘Jessica Hyde’. His monotonous tone and repeated phrase, ‘Where is Jessica Hyde?’, is scarily psychotic and he is seemingly brainwashed. Neil Maskell is fantastic in his portrayal as he progresses through the episode killing anybody in his way. As the group are slowly figuring out what has happened they realise that Becky and Ian have been set up for crimes they didn’t commit. It is clear that the organisation tracking them hold much higher authority than first thought. As Wilson tries to hack into government accounts Arby is led to the gang by the signals sent off by Wilson. After a harrowing interrogation, the gang escape and are introduced to the infamous, Jessica Hyde (Fiona O’Shaughnessy).

Utopia episode three

From there, the series goes from episode to episode in a narrative which evolves in the most unexpected ways. Even though it takes a while to reach the defining moment of the series, we finally understand that the objective of The Network is to sterilise the nation to prevent over population. The key is the Minister of Health, Micheal Dugdale (Paul Higgins), who assists the Prime Minister, against his will, to bring in a vaccine which will subtly sterilise the nation without any suspicion being aroused. This narrative asks all types of questions on morality as The Network pose a strong argument in relation to over population and the justification of their experiment, to the extent that, faithful hacker Wilson turns against the gang and releases one of The Network’s most powerful figures. The power of argument is strong and it will no doubt ask questions of the audience to what they believe is the right way to tackle such a massive and sensitive issue.

Dennis Kelly has created a fantastic set of characters, with a web of conspiracy shrouding each of them, every episode leaves you questioning the reliability of the characters involved. This cocktail of deception creates brilliant viewing as every turn and twist is carefully documented and opens up a handful of new questions which leave you on the edge of your seat. Rightfully, Channel 4 have given the nod for a second series and Kelly admitted on a Twitter Q&A that he has many ideas in his locker. I eagerly await the next installment of Kelly’s genius. Utopia, stands alone when it comes to comparisons as I’ve certainly never seen something so adventurous and politically questioning when it comes to TV dramas and without a doubt I believe Kelly will deliver again in the future with the second series potentially hitting screens in 2014.

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American History X (1998): Is it an immoral film?

American History X (1998)

Dir.: Tony Kaye

Cast: Edward Norton; Edward Furlong; Avery Brooks

American History X 4

***SPOILERS***

Tony Kaye’s, American History X (1998), has been widely discussed and people have argued that it has endorsed racism through glamorisation of the Neo-Nazi culture in America. I’m going to explore both sides and whether or not Kaye’s film insights violence towards the ethnic minorities in America. The glorification of Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton), is what provoked most negative readings on release and people labelled American History X as a work of racist propaganda. More recently however the film has been widely received as an exceptional film scoring high among most viewers. Arguably it could be Norton’s fantastic performance, which he was awarded an Oscar nominee for best actor, that could have manipulated audiences rather than Kaye’s extreme themes that have been ignored by the majority of society. The film is horrific in it’s nature and the racist behaviour and language are completely unacceptable but Kaye has done this for a reason, and why is what I’m trying to explore.

The film begins with Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong) telling the story of his brother, Derek, who has just been jailed for the murder of 3 black men who tried to steal his truck outside his home. We begin with a black and white scene where Derek is made aware of the burglars by Danny and then precedes to commit homicide as they attempt to get away. From the outset, Derek is glorified, he is making love to his girlfriend, Stacey (Fairuza Balk), which suggests his masculinity and power and then guns down the black men topless whilst bearing a huge Swastika tattoo on his left peck. The explicitness of his racist beliefs is over powering and Kaye purposefully expresses Derek in this way. The question remains, are these racist intentions? All too ironically, Kaye represents Derek in this God-like form much similar to Leni Riefenstahl’s depiction of man in her Nazi propaganda films. Commissioned by Hitler to promote male dominance, Riefenstahl was famous for her use of slow-motion movements, orchestral symphonies and close ups of the male anatomy which can all be seen in Kaye’s own presentation of Derek. Surely, Kaye would be unable to support such fascist believes in a film that will be distributed to millions, does he not have a moral responsibility to not mislead his audience?

American History X 1

Kaye, is so outlandishly advocating Nazi beliefs through his glorification of Derek that it suggests hypocrisy. Is he purely presenting Derek in a satirical manner to overtly suggest his racial ideologies as well as commentating on the ability to manipulate an audience in such a way? We can again see this glamourisation in the Basketball Scene. Derek joins the game to regain the courts back as they play ‘White Vs. Blacks’. It’s a typical sporting scene as Derek joins the game at 6-8. The rousing music as the ‘whites’ are on the offensive and the crowd cheering is all purposefully manipulative by Kaye. One of the black players then elbows Derek which would immediately provoke a response from the audience, depicting the black player as a ‘cheat’ influencing the audience to support the ‘whites’ even though audience members know they shouldn’t. They understand that this type of racial segregation should hold no place in society.

However, all these scenes come before the infamous ‘Curb stomp’ scene, as Christopher Grau argued in his essay, (American History X, Cinematic Manipulation, and Moral Conversion), the audience have been influenced to enjoy Derek’s presence. Yet after the horrific acts he commits are revealed in full in Danny’s flashbacks, the audience question their attitude towards Derek and are repulsed that they enjoyed such a character. Kaye used fascist aesthetics to portray Derek previously which are dangerous techniques but ultimately effective as the audience then hesitate to engage with Derek after his conversion to ‘normality’ once leaving prison.

American History X 3

Derek’s conversion may come too late as Danny, his younger brother, has already been brainwashed by the Neo-Nazi skinhead leader, Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach), and Derek’s old friend, Seth Ryan (Ethan Suplee). Yet Dr. Sweeney (Avery Brooks), both Derek and Danny’s school principal, attempts to persuade Danny not to go down the same route, and after it becomes clear ‘Sweeney’ has spoke to Derek whilst in prison. They both attempt to help Danny escape the fascist culture he is now involved with. Danny has been indoctrinated with Derek’s pro-Nazi attitude since an early age just as Derek was influenced by their own father, who was coincidentally killed by a black drug dealer. This constant spoon-feeding of Nazi propaganda has set Danny up for a life of racial crime and this is where, I believe, Kaye has allowed himself to present the racist ideologies in a glorified manner through Derek.

Every time the audience are shown a flashback of Derek, through the use of black and white, we are seeing it through Danny’s eyes. So Derek’s racial prejudice is Danny’s perception of his older brother. The God-like image, the strength and brutality and the reasons behind why the audience support Derek can be explained through this theory. Kaye has placed Derek as somebody to look up to just as any brother would to his older sibling, Danny was never a racist from birth, but the continual influence of his older brother has made him a victim of his circumstances. It also becomes clear that when Derek had these racist beliefs, he is rarely presented as being happy. There are many scenes where he is ranting about the degradation of American society, (Immigration Speech, Dinner-table ‘discussion’), but these are all nihilistic outbursts only bringing chaos to the people in his vicinity.

American History X 2

The ending, however is where it loses its substance I believe. As much as I enjoyed the film and the ending as a whole, from a moral message point of view, everything it stands for; the rehabilitation of Derek, his disengagement with the Neo-Nazi’s and the potential reintegration of Danny into society with a better life is eradicated in the final scene. Where does the film go from there? Does Derek then re-evaluate all he learnt in jail and disregard Sweeney’s advice and hunt down the man who shot his brother? Or is it a vicious circle and racial prejudice will never have a solution? A view supported by Washington Post’s, Stephen Hunter, who stated:

“It not only allows its fantasy versions of American Nazis to spew their blackest, cruelest vomitus of hatred but it takes energy and vitality from the electricity of that hatred; then it demurely pretends to disapprove in the last few minutes.” (Stephen Hunter, Washington Post, October, 30, 1998)

I don’t believe wholly with that statement, as I don’t think the film is immoral in its entirety, but his last phrase supports the point that the film loses some credibility in its ability to send a message that opposes racism and everything Derek stands for. It’s hard to suggest what Kaye fully meant to convey in this film and this could be the reason behind his resignation as the film’s director after Norton made final cuts without his consultation. However, I don’t believe the film is immoral, it is simply portraying, to an extreme extent, what can happen if these racist ideologies are broadcast. Especially their influence on the younger generation such as Derek and Danny. Tony Kaye is commentating on society and outlining the problems with this type of exposure to persons who can be easily manipulated, which is why I believe, even though I am completely against the values portrayed in the film, it is not supporting racism but commentating on the dangerous effects this type of prejudice can have.

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Derek: Series 1 (2013)

Derek (ep.01-06)

Written & Directed by Ricky Gervais

Derek 1

***SPOILERS***

Ricky Gervais’s most recent venture was a mockumentary comedy drama which focused on character, Derek Noakes, played by Gervais. Derek is a kind, selfless man who works at Broad Hill care home doing above and beyond the call of duty in looking after the residents. It is evident from the outset that Derek lacks intelligence and has a childlike demeanour, even though Gervais disregarded the idea that Derek was mentally disabled, many people have interpreted Derek as being autistic. At first I was cynical as it seemed Gervais was pointing fun and mocking the most vulnerable in society even though he claimed he was being satirical. However after the first episode you’re introduced to the characters and it is clear that Gervais’s intentions were not to mock but to draw attention to what many people in society like to ignore.

Broad Hill is being threatened with closure as they have lost their funding from the council due to public sector cuts, although this being a minor issue in the series as a whole, it is evident Gervais is commentating on the government’s attitudes as relocating the elder generation can be very upsetting and disturbing. Throughout the series we follow Derek and his attempts to bring joy and happiness to the care home with the help of the care home manager, Hannah (Kerry Godliman). He tries to boost the morale by taking the residents to the beach and performing cabaret nights in the home. Derek is consistently trying to help and his naivety towards major issues adds to the value of his kindness. He knows no bounds when it comes to helping the residents and this rare quality is envied by every member of the care home’s work force as we are shown in episode 06.

Part of the work force is Dougie (Karl Pilkington) who is a handyman in the care home who’s actual job description according to him is, ‘I fix shit’, on investigation by the council officials when exploring what cuts could be made. He can be very irate at times and easily irritated when it comes to Derek’s continual questions on such trivial matters like, ‘What would win out of a Lamborghini and a train?’. Dougie is the voice of the people, made famous by Gervais’s comedy series, An Idiot Abroad, his consistent groans of complaints makes him comical even though it is unintentional. It was obvious that this character was written with Pilkington in mind and Gervais admitted this during the episode, ‘The Making of Derek’, where he explained how he had to be extremely persuasive to get Pilkington, who is relatively inexperienced compared to the other members of the cast, to agree on playing the role of Dougie. You could argue that it was too much Karl and not enough Dougie as he had the same characteristics and pessimistic attitudes as Pilkington portrayed in An Idiot Abroad, but ultimately Dougie was your typical caretaker who would find his job under scrutiny when it comes to public cuts.

Derek 2

Another character which provoked a mixed response was Kevin “Kev” Twine (David Earl), playing a vulgar alcoholic whose crude remarks and disgusting attitudes towards women were repulsive yet comical. In the first 5 episodes we are kept at a distance from Kev who consistently makes sexist and racist jokes, we tolerate his humour that we have come to know through other shows like The Inbetweeners. The same crude remarks and overuse of profanities comes as no surprise. Yet in the final episode we first engage with Kev as this uncaring facade is taken away and we strangely sympathise with him. Throughout the series he is never seen without his customary ‘Special Brew’ which on the surface is a funny prop to his character but during his final confessions we realise that Kev is actually a raging alcoholic. Alcohol has affected him throughout his life and is a serious problem. We realise his gambling addiction is the reason he resides at the care home and he declares himself as a failure. This self-acceptance is upsetting and David Earl’s performance is extremely thought provoking as he explains how he envies Derek and how he ‘chose the best shortcut in life, the only shortcut that works, kindness’.

Another character who is the backbone of the care home is, Hannah. Kerry Godliman’s performance is hugely satisfying as she portrays every care home manager that gives their life to the cause. She’s a breath of fresh air and her consistent attempts to keep the care home running smoothly allows for a highly enjoyable character that the audience can relate to. Derek can not praise Hannah enough and insists that she is his ‘second mum’. This friendship and bond allows Derek to flourish in his attempts to help but she keeps him heavily on tabs as she oversees his persistent efforts to brighten the residents numbered days.

Derek 3

Derek is a comedic masterpiece wonderfully created by Rick Gervais. Derek represents everything we’re not, he has no worries, he has no viciousness, he is forgiving and his kindness trumps any suggestion on his mental capacity. He lives a life of selflessness, he is purely their to help and that rare quality is one everyone envies and his kindness is universally felt throughout the series. The shock when he rejects his Dad’s attempts at reconciliation is real, understandably someone of Derek’s mental capabilities would not understand why a father would leave his son yet the audience find themselves urging Derek to hear his story. With Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’, what is a common fixture in a tearjerking finale, Gervais leaves the comedy aside as Derek finds it in him to accept his father’s attempt. This scene was so thought provoking as it is only what Derek deserves, regardless of the situation of what’s gone before, his kindness and general happiness should be rewarded with the father, he always wanted even if he didn’t make it so obvious. Derek, is on par with Gervais’s, The Office, which some consider his best work, and I find it hard to think of a television series with such an emotional and powerful final episode. Even though Channel 4 have commissioned a second series, for now it should be left as Gervais should be applauded for this momentous achievement that is, Derek.

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