Derek Season 1 Review: Gervais at His Heartfelt Best
Although he endured some controversy facing the show when it initially launched in the UK in 2012, comedian Ricky Gervais has been persistent in his defense of Derek. While the claim persists that Gervais was taking comedic shots at the handicapped and making light of a complicated situation, look deeper and you’ll find that Derek is not only one of the most inspiring and moving television shows of the past few years, it’s a show that uses its unique main character to inspire the purest sense of hope in any and all who watch it.
The show’s premise is surprisingly simple, but what Gervais and company do with all of the characters and situations contained within each episode is nothing short of amazing. Gervais stars as Derek, a mentally handicapped middle-aged man who works in a nursing home alongside his co-workers and friends Hannah (Kerry Godliman) and Dougie (Karl Pilkington). During the show’s seven-episode span, the three (along with several other important tertiary characters) will deal with heartbreak, death, loss, and pain, all while ultimately embracing a sense of love and hope that unites them.
As the title would suggest, the innocent Derek is at the heart of it all, a character who not only is a powerful force during his moments on-screen, but whose influence is also felt in nearly every other moment during the rest of the series as each of the characters borrow some of his traits of kindness and unconditional love and apply it in their own lives.
And although Derek’s influence carries over to the entire mood of the show itself, each of the characters still manage to feel completely unique and go through their own process of development to become completely well-realized by the end of the show. Hannah is the home’s manager and has all but denied herself a life outside of the home thanks to her complete and unabashed dedication to her work. Dougie is a custodian who has never managed to fit in anywhere he goes, but still tries to do his very best to be a good person thanks to the influence of Derek. Kev is Derek’s perverted friend who I found to be the most unlikable of the bunch, but was ultimately able to understand and even feel a bit of empathy for once I learned the depth of his character throughout the final few episodes of the season.
Even Karl Pilkington’s dry sense of humor and lovable goofiness carries over from An Idiot Abroad into Derek, finding a perfect home in the character of Dougie. Interestingly enough, Karl does nothing to disappear into the character, and those who are familiar with him will recognize many of his scenes as Karl merely being himself in a terrible wig. Yet Dougie is somehow able to come to life and find a place of his own in Derek as one of the stronger characters. It’s a fascinating phenomenon I’d attribute to the genius writing of Gervais and company.
Surprisingly, the show is not as comedy-heavy as some of Gervais’ earlier works such as Ghost Town and The Invention of Lying. There is plenty of comedy to be had in Derek, but jokes are much more organic and tend to only complement the heartfelt and intense drama that the show presents. In many ways, the blend of comedy and tragedy serves to give the show a more realistic sense of life than anything he’s made before.
Gervais’ mission with Derek was to create a show that is heavy on the heart and preaches a timeless message of kindness and hope, despite the trials and troubles that life brings upon us. It will make you laugh, will make you cry, and will lead you to ask yourself questions about the nature and purpose of life during each and every episode, all while instilling in you a pure sense of hope that only a masterful tale of love can tell.
Derek is now available to watch on Netflix.