Just got home from attending the screening. My experience and initial thoughts follow.
The screening start time was 18:45 but the event advertised 'pre-screening drinks' from 18:15. When I arrived I was taken up to a very plush reception filled with about 50 people dressed very smartly. The first person I saw was Jane, Ricky's girlfriend, chatting to a bunch of people who seemed to be old friends. I immediately wondered whether I had gatecrashed a private event - but I got chatting to someone who confirmed that this was in fact the right place for me to be - though they did say they were members of Bafta, rather than unkempt members of the public like me. I tried to take a glass of wine off a tray but was told 'that's not for you' - though the barstaff did pour me another (free) glass.
Anyway. The screening itself. It was introduced by someone who worked at Channel 4, who said Channel 4 wanted to take more risks, showing programmes that may possibly offend people, things that might not get shown on other channels - and that Derek certainly ticked those boxes. The guy said they were interested in commissioning a series but it wasn't laid down yet - they were really interested in our feedback and we were asked to laugh in all the right places, which would get them a series. I got the strong impression we were being used as a focus group.
Derek itself lasted 24 minutes - and my lasting impression is that it was miles better than Life's Too Short, not as good as The Office but possibly on-par with Extras (EDIT: (to protect myself from potential flames, perhaps placing it on-par with Extras after watching the pilot is overreaching on my part - but certainly it doesn't stick out from Ricky's portfolio as LTS does, and it's more grounded than Extras). It's also pretty different from Ricky's other stuff, in that he plays Derek completely straight, with no 'ego' or delusions to the character that gives the laughs as it did with Brent and Millman. Essentially he is a not-particularly-bright person with a heart of gold - in that sense it's really safe, because the nicest person in the pilot is the implied-learning-disabled person, Derek. Having said that, it still feels like a Ricky and Steve show (even though Steve's not involved), ways of delivering the laughs and general style that people will find familiar. It's more drama-comedy than anything Ricky's done before, reminding me of Cemetary Junction's approach to things more than anything. In fact I'd say Cemetary Junction's the closest point of reference for Derek, in terms of style and general 'vibe'.
Perhaps an issue I had was the fact that it's a bit of a cliche to have the disabled person be the nicest person on screen - but, well, yeah, there it is. Ricky played the part convincingly and only when looking back on it does it seem slightly odd for him to be playing someone who essentially has learning disabilities, I can't help but link it to white actors blacking up - but I dunno, maybe that's my prejudice. In the Q&A afterwards Ricky said they always get someone with a disability playing the role (eg. the lady in the wheelchair in The Office) but in this case, it's just that Derek isn't very bright, rather than he has a specific diagnosis or disability. Though it seemed pretty clear to me that Derek's inspiration was people with learning disabilities. The lovely lady sitting next to me also said she felt it was a bit heavy handed, which I also agree with - though I guess in a pilot you're trying to squeeze a series' worth of emotion and comedy into half an hour.
I don't really want to spoil the plot, so in vague terms, Derek works in an old people's home, he and the residents get on really well, sometimes people make fun of Derek but his friends stick up for him, he gets really close to one old person (no not like that) because he's sweet and caring. The thing is shot as a documentary - so Derek and the other characters talk to the camera from time to time.
Karl basically plays himself - he has quite a bit of screentime in which he basically moans about whatever's happening at the time. He's as you'd expect (a nice touch - in his office there's a little toy monkey) - there's no revelation really with his acting, because he's saying stuff you'd imagine Karl to say. But he doesn't stick out either - it's cool to see him there. And his hair and glasses are really funny the first time you see them.
The Q&A at the end was interesting. Ricky said he wanted to get back to 'real people' and was tired of doing stuff about fame. Ricky often mentioned The Office and Extras when talking about his previous work, but Life's Too Short barely got a mention - merely to confirm he and Steve were writing the one-hour Christmas special which he said was essentially a Barry, Les and Cheggers spin-off. I think he did feel more cautious around talking about it than he did The Office and Extras.
I also kind of sensed he was setting himself up for doing more work on his own - he said he liked co-writing but he really likes being a sole auteur as he has more control, and pointed out that about 50% of his stuff he's done on his own (Flanimals, films, standup etc).
He talked about mong-gate pretty openly, saying he got a call from an LD charity and he didn't realise it was still being used as a derogatory term.
He said he wants to make Derek a series, a lot of it is already written in his head - but again a series hasn't been commissioned yet.
I genuinely think it's a huge step-up from Life's Too Short - curious that Steve's not involved in this one but was in LTS. Dunno what that says.
So - yeah. Bear in mind these impressions may have been influenced by a lovely setting and mingling with the rich and famous (sort of) - but three hours after the screening I still feel pretty much the same. Will have missed bits out but feel free to ask questions.