Remember when Ricky Gervais was mean?
Well, perhaps ‘mean’ is the wrong word. But the comedic mastermind behind The Office, Extras and Life’s Too Short has changed things up for his newest series, Derek. Is this seriously the same guy who lobbed grenades at celebrities at the Golden Globes a few years ago?
Gervais’ latest mockumentary focuses on Derek Noakes, an innocent British nursing home worker with an upbeat attitude, odd facial tics and endless curiosity. And while it’s never confirmed, the show implies that Derek has some form of autism. The seven-episode series – seen on Netflix, via Britain’s Channel 4 – was written and directed by Gervais, who also stars in the lead role.
Whenever I discuss this show with friends, they always include the word ‘sweet’ in their descriptions. Sweet and sincere, but not necessarily funny. Despite my longing for Gervais’ traditional comedy style, Derek does contain a few solid moments. So, I’ve got hope for the forthcoming second season. Here’s what I’d improve. Ricky, take notes.
FLESH OUT THE CHARACTERS
This feels like the type of show that would prioritize character development. We spend the majority of the time in the nursing home with the residents and workers, so we should be experiencing character arcs aplenty, right? Somehow, that doesn’t really happen. The elderly residents blend together, almost serving as background props for the main characters. No one feels three-dimensional. Everyone does mainly one thing. The first six episodes hammered home both Derek’s devotion to the elderly and Kevin Twine’s devotion to sexual innuendo. Thankfully, the Season 1 finale gave us glimpses of a bitter Derek – in his refusal to speak to his estranged father – and an emotional Kevin. Season 2 needs more of that.
INCLUDE MORE HANNAH
We all agree that Derek is the main character here. I’m not going to fight anyone on that. But Season 1’s best moments focused on Hannah (played by Kerry Godliman), the overworked, underpaid woman that runs everything at the Broad Hill care home and struggles to maintain a love life. Her defence of Derek in the pub – when she head-butted a rude woman that was mocking him – definitely provoked a fist pump in my living room. The audience relates to her the most in this show, especially since everyone else feels so one-dimensional.
STOP THE MONTAGES
Am I a Coldplay fan? Yes. Is Radiohead my favourite band? Probably. Do I think montages are effective? Sometimes. But Gervais’ use of this technique – setting multiple sequences to Coldplay’s Paradise and Fix You, as well as Radiohead’s Bones – makes my teeth hurt, like I’ve eaten too much chocolate at Christmas. The forced sentimentality kills the mood, especially when you realize you’re being manipulated. Quit playing games with my heart, Ricky.