Sunday, August 24, 2014

Favoritest Show?

I finally got around to watching Ricky Gervais' new series Derek.  He's up for an Emmy this Monday for his lead performance. As usual with him, there are two short seasons--only 13 episodes in all. (There still may be a third season, or perhaps--also the norm for Gervais--a finale.) What's unusual is the content, which is far more sentimental and occasionally melancholic that he generally does.

In the show that made him rich and famous, The Office, Gervais is a boorish boss who thinks he's the life of the party.  In Extras he's a caustic bit player whose gets to star in his own series and finds it's not all it's cracked up to be.  But Gervais as the title character in Derek plays a mentally challenged man who's makes the best of his life hanging out in an old folk's home.

The show still has humor, enough to characterize the half hour as a sitcom, but there's far less than in previous efforts.  Other characters include Hannah--essentially a co-lead--a saintly yet no-nonsense woman who runs the home; Kev, a sleazy loser who's Derek's best friend; Dougie (played by Gervais punching bag Karl Pilkington, though he leaves in the middle of the second season), the caretaker; and a number of others, including the denizens of the home.

Gervais does an impressive job creating a character so different from anything he's done before.  Derek is a believable character who, though a grown man, generally acts like a child.  His positive attitude, no matter what he's given, carries the show along, since there's plenty of tragedy, including more than one death. If there's any trouble with the comedy, it's that the show is so sweet that there are very few "bad guys" to make the sparks fly. Perhaps this is why the new caretaker in the second season, Geoff, is sort of a jerk--though even he's redeemed by the end.

The show isn't boring (except for occasional musical interludes with no dialogue), but it's highly sentimental, and occasionally gets a little sappy.  Gervais has shown slight indications of this in the past, especially in his finales, but he wears his heart on his sleeve here.

I prefer his earlier, rougher stuff--his specialty is highly awkward moments, and while they abound in Derek, there's a softness that prevents it from landing as strongly.  But as an experiment in comedy-drama, the show is mostly a success.

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