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Derek: New Ricky Gervais Show Set for Spring 2013 US Debut
What exactly is Derek?
Derek, the latest TV comedy from Ricky Gervais, becomes available to the US in the spring of 2013 via Netflix and is likely to draw as much controversy in the states as it has in its country of origin.
Gervais stars in the title role of Derek Noakes, a rather simple, innocent, 49 year old man whose life heavily revolves around his work as a “helper” at “retirement” home.
Derek’s cohorts at work include the handyman slash bus driver, Dougie (Karl Pilkington). Derek lives at Dougie’s “council flat,” which is something like “the projects” in the US; Kev (David Earl), who does not work at the home but is a near-constant fixture at the facility, and Hannah (Kerry Godliman), a manager and friend.
The first series of six episodes (and the pilot episode) revolve around the misadventures that occur due to Derek’s considerable naivete as well as stories of bureaucratic overreach and the various deaths of the home’s residents.
One of the problems with Derek, as it aired on Channel 4 TV in the UK was that many people did not find it funny due in part to two things: the backdrop of a retirement home and the character of Derek.
First, the retirement home, which is more like a personal care home in the US, is a fairly joyless place. Residents are often busy dealing with the abundance of problems that accrue late in life. There have been precious few successful comedies involving older persons that do not appear stereotypical and derivative.
Second, many people do not know how to take Derek. Some say he’s mentally-retarded, some think he might be autistic or have Asperger’s Syndrome. Gervais defends the character as not having a specific disability rather is "based on those people you meet who are on the margins of society: Nerds, loners, under achievers." Despite his explanation, many of the show’s UK critics feel as though he is mocking the intellectually challenged.
The character of Derek evolved out of Gervais’ standup comedy[i], and Gervais seems to play Derek like something that’s a bit of a put on. While watching Derek in action, I can almost see the wheels turning in Gervais’ mind. He appears too self-conscious and not very natural, which makes it uncomfortable to watch.
Derek’s sidekicks appear equally put on. Karl Pilkington, as Dougie, looks as if the bald wig he’s stuck with is about to pop off and take his brain with it. This appears to be the first acting role for Pilkington who has appeared in other, more reality-based, fare with Gervais.
Derek is not a comedy. It is a light drama with occasional comedy.
It will be interesting to see how Derek affects US audiences. My guess is that it won’t go over as well as his other shows.