I adore British comedy. From Monty Python and Fawlty Towers to Are you Being Served, the Brits always seem to have something designed to tickle my American sensibilities. However with the exception of The Office English comedic television has seemed as dreary as a November afternoon in jolly London town.
When Ricky Gervais created a vehicle to showcase his brand of awkward comedy he effectively changed the comedy landscape on both sides of the pond. The mockumentery about an inept manager at a failing paper company breathed new life into the workplace sitcom. Gervais followed this with a few terrible movies, a stint hosting the Golden Globes and a fantastic travel miniseries called An Idiot Abroad.
In his Netflix original series Derek, Gervais revisits his roots while stepping beyond them. Derek is shot in the same mockumentery style as the Office. The writer/director/actor plays the title character, a fifty year old caretaker at an end of life nursing facility. The staff and patience make up the remainder of the cast.
Derek seems to be mildly mentally handicapped in a way that is as yet not fully disclosed. He is kind hearted, but often confused by social convention. I expected the outrageous and often over the top Gervais to take jokes about Derek’s disability beyond an acceptable place. Instead of exploiting Derek’s shortcomings for cheap laughs Gervais transcends expectation. He delivers a relatable, and loveable portrait of a high functioning individual.
Some of the funniest moments in the show involve Derek showing YouTube videos to the camera and explaining them as while they are playing. Gervais gives us in these moments what appears to be true laughter and pride coming from a character that is trying to make you laugh with him–not at him. There are how ever plenty of opportunities to laugh at this program.
The always hilarious Karl Pilkington and David Earl portray Derek’s best friends Dougie and Kev. Both of whom, though younger than him, see Derek as a little brother. They have their fun with him; though, they are quick to prevent others from doing so. Dougie takes many asides with the camera explaining his philosophy of life which is often dark and uproarious. Kev is the resident “horndog” always drunk and always looking for a good time.
Derek is subtle even gentle in it’s humor, often the big laughs come from trying to imagine similar events happening in your work place. It is quite a bit more dramatic than Extras or The Office. You will alternate between nervous laughter and the brink of tears. All the while truly enjoying a fine comedy. The first 7 episodes of the series are currently available on Netflix instant streaming.