Netflix’s new original series Derek is one of those series’ that come along every once in awhile that helps you restore faith in humanity. The series takes place in a nursing home and centers around Derek (Ricky Gervais), an employee at the home who may or may not be autistic (since it will not change who he is, he sees no point in testing for the condition), and is thoroughly loved by the residents and employees alike. Following a very basic plot, Derek truly delivers in every aspect that matters, and then some.
Gervais is known for his less than gentle approach when it comes to humor and many would argue that he made his career by being a bit of a jerk. Every preconceived notion of what Gervais may or may not be is thrown out the window the moment the audience is introduced to Derek. He is a gentle man with a kind heart who loves nothing more than to make others happy (watching the occasional animal-related YouTube video comes close, however). Yes, there is obviously something a bit different about Derek and this difference no doubt aids in his ability to care so thoroughly but his simplistic outlook on life is something to envy. While the series does feature some residents of the home, the staff is truly the star of the series and there isn’t a single actor who doesn’t pull their weight. Considering that they are all veterans of television, this should be a given but somehow, each still manages to put forth the performances of their lives and impress viewers with almost every line.
Kerry Godliman gives audiences some of her best work of her career as Hannah, the manager of the home. Hannah is one of the most compassionate and kind characters that television has offered viewers in long time and Godliman portrays the character effortlessly. Karl Pilkington emerges from under Gervais’ shadow and is given the opportunity to show what he has to offer as Dougie, Derek’s best friend. Dougie is the caretaker at the home and is responsible for many duties, from tending to the lawn to gluing handles back onto broken coffee mugs, and everything in between. Finally, David Earl rounds the cast off as Kev, Derek’s other best friend who has absolutely no social skills whatsoever. Kev doesn’t live or work at the home – he simply spends all of his time there as he has absolutely nothing better to do.
The relationship between Derek and his friends is something sweet and special, and the audience is shown that he really is the glue that holds things together. In addition to providing audiences with some very heartwarming moments between the friends, the show touches on many topics that plague those who live in assisted living homes in a way that makes those issues even more real. For instance, one episode shows a horrible daughter who is simply waiting for her mother to die so that she can finally get her mom’s jeweled wedding ring. Viewers will no doubt associate this character with someone in their life which lends to the authenticity of the character. Another plot revolves around a criminal who is doing community service work for the home and is absolutely disgusted by it…at first. Through the course of that episode, she learns the value of the elderly, the rewards associated with kindness, and even the responsibility that the younger generation has to those who are living out the twilight of their lives. Another episode gives audiences a bit of a glimpse behind the curtain of assisted living by providing a plot where a committee has decided that the cost of running the home has just become too high and rather than making adjustments, they simply want to relocate every resident. The audience witnesses Hannah’s desperate fight to keep the residents as they are, which seems as if saving the home is the only way to save the employees’ jobs. Later, it is revealed that the true motivation behind her desperation is that 90% of residents who are relocated die before adjusting, and she refuses to subject a single resident to that fate.
Each of the seven episodes of Derek‘s first season has plenty to mine from when it comes time for the Emmys and Gervais and Godliman both deserve an award for their portrayal of their characters. As a matter of fact, Gervais deserves several for his work on the series. In addition to acting, Gervais wrote and directed each of the seven episodes and if he doesn’t win an award, many may begin to question the validity of the awards process. Derek is lighthearted while being touching, serious while still providing laughs, and insightful without being preachy. The true magic that the series pulls off, however, is that it makes its viewers want to be better people in their day to day lives. Not many other series’ can claim this feat, and that alone should give audiences the desire to experience this truly remarkable show.