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Kylee Peña
on Sep 21, 2013 at 4:11:10 pm

Ricky Gervais' latest show "Derek" was just added to Netflix in the US. Like all good brit shows, it's only like 8 episodes (and each episode is a little over 20 minutes long.) So you can run through the whole show pretty quickly, which I did.

When I first heard the premise, I thought it sounded like potentially he most offensive thing ever: Ricky Gervais plays a (possibly) mentally handicapped guy living and working in a nursing home. But damn, he pulls it off. When I'm watching him as Derek, I don't see Gervais at all. He creates so many mannerisms in his movements and way of speaking that are completely honest as a whole different character and don't feel at all like anyone is making fun. Derek is the hero of the show and for every time there is a comedic misunderstanding due to the way he is, there are 10 ways in which he has the upper hand.

So anyway, the show is about this nursing home that houses mostly elderly people, shot in the same style as The Office (UK, but I guess also US.) Karl Pilkington is a janitor named Dougie with the disposition of Karl Pilkington. Derek is sort of a resident/worker. And the main character besides Derek is Hannah. She's in charge of the understaffed facility, so much of the show is framed through her eyes, observing Derek, trying to balance having an actual life outside of taking care of people who are close to death.

In the faux interview segments of the show, there are some very relatable and intriguing discussions of life and death. Hannah occasionally seems mildly disappointed in her life in a way -- not because she's working in a nursing home, but because nothing ever seems to get easier. In what I think was the best episode of the series, a man from the government comes to check on the nursing home to determine if they'll continue to fund it. It's very invasive and horrible, and almost feels too real. The man is consistently concerned with Derek's role in the facility (which IS kind of a grey area, along with Dougie and his other friend, Kev) and Hannah jumps in to defend him. But Derek doesn't need it. The man asks "Have you ever been tested for autism?" Derek responds in his typical terse style "I'm not great at tests." The man insists and Derek says "If I am autistic, will it change me in any way? Will I be the same person?" No, it won't. "Don't worry about it then."

Which I think is the point of the show. Who is Derek and what's wrong with him? He's this really caring guy that loves animal videos on YouTube. The rest of it doesn't matter.

Positives of the show: really great performances by everyone, especially Gervais. Not particularly preachy about the themes it's trying to get across about mental illness, the elderly, and death (it's all in the delivery). Well-written, fully developed characters. Old people you like actually die a lot instead of remaining as weird background characters forever (it's a nursing home.) Great direction and cinematography similar to The Office -- a lot of breaking the fourth wall. Great deadpan dialogue and a lot of genuinely funny moments. First time I can remember a show using Len's Steal My Sunshine within the last ten years.

Negatives: The editing at times is way too literal. The last couple episodes of the show rely heavily upon montages with popular songs, one of which has cuts only on the beat, and only uses shots that correspond with the lyrics. That's the quickest way to make me hate something. I'm looking at you, Stargate Universe. The other negative is that it seems almost every person that comes into Broad Hill from the outside is a villain of some kind. Nearly every child of a resident is a hateful ass hole who just wants the will to be up to date. I know there are lots of people like that, but surely these people occasionally get a good visit, right? And because every visitor is satan, Hannah is portrayed as a consistently saintly caretaker -- the one who will make sure these old people die comfortably while their children are prying their jewelry off. I would have preferred to see a little more flaw to her.

I'm recommending Derek to people I know who don't hate Ricky Gervais. It's a really sweet show mostly. I'm looking forward to another season. Which will probably be in like a freakin' year and a half since it takes so long for the show to get to the US.

twitter: @kyl33t

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Jeff Breuer
Re: Derek
on Sep 23, 2013 at 11:55:18 pm

I'm glad somebody else is watching this show. With all of the pomp and circumstance the other Netflix shows got this year, Derek really fell under the radar. And it's a shame to say because I enjoy even though I don't care for Ricky Gervais. I don't hate him, I just tend to find him usually annoying and occasionally funny as opposed to the other way around. But he really nails this.

I agree with Kylee's review, it's not a groundbreaking show, but it's fun and it has a lot of heart.

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