Ricky Gervais’ ‘Derek’ on Netflix review

Derek

Available now for streaming on Netflix

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Ricky Gervais writes, directs and stars in this tenderhearted ensemble mockumentary about an enthusiastic employee at the Broad Hill retirement home. The show is a risk for Gervais, who combs his hair over and juts his jaw into an underbite in order to play the title character; we are to understand that Derek is not quite right but none of the words for it seem apt. (Simple? Special? Mentally disabled? Autistic?)

It’s ingenious that “Derek” is less preoccupied with a diagnosis and more focused on the minuscule but meaningful ways that Derek interacts with his elderly charges. The only problem is an overall feeling of hesi­ta­tion — on Gervais’s part, but also on his audience’s. You’re so braced for something to snap, for the comedy to stray into no-no land, that it’s hard to relax and appreciate “Derek’s” emotional intent.

A strong supporting cast (including Kerry Godliman as the facility’s overworked manager and Karl Pilkington as the handyman) does what it can, but after a few episodes, “Derek” becomes less absorbing; it’s more of a character sketch than a fully realized story. Grade: C+

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