For the most part in the first season of Derek, Ricky Gervais was able to avoid letting the character be the unfiltered font of wisdom who opens the eyes of those around him with his simple man’s perspective on life. When that did happen, the effect was much more subtle and surprisingly impactful.
This second go-round, Gervais is relying on that trope far too heavily. This episode is the most egregious example, with the grandson of a Broad Hill tenant looking to dump an unneeded camper there, and then impress everyone with his finance job. But no one bats an eye, and instead Derek unknowingly teaches him about the wisdom of the elderly and appreciating every moment. Next thing you know, the banker is taking his grandfather outside to relive a childhood memory. It’s sweet, I know, but it’s also been done a dozen times over in film and TV.
The actually moving part of the episode is Kev’s attempt to get cleaned up and look respectable in order to get the vacant caretaker job. He showers, starts attending AA meetings, and then attempts to win over Hannah during the job interview. It doesn’t go that well but hearing him talk about how much appreciated Derek, Hannah, and the residents, and wanting to give something back to them was heartbreaking. As was his obvious distress at not getting the job.
But, Gervais’ character can’t evolve. So many of the characters in his show never really move beyond their baked-in personality traits, even when faced with life-changing opportunities or experiences. Andy in “Extras” is probably the closest, but only because he has the big emotional breakdown at the end of the Christmas special. Everyone else pretty much spins their wheels for the duration of these shows.
That’s why Derek is such an interesting study because there’s little room for him to really evolve. He matured a bit at the end of Season One when he reunited with his father. Everyone else around him, though, is very much in the same place and show no signs of wanting to move on—well, apart from Dougie, the home’s original caretaker (even if his departure from Broad Hill was likely a way to write Karl Pilkington off the show).
Gervais seems to expect much more from his viewers, urging them through these over-emotional moments to reconsider their own lives and their relationships with the people around them. Seems a bit preachy, yet perfectly fitting with the nature of the show’s creator. It’s one thing, though, to hold a mirror up to society and ask it to do some self-examination, and something entirely different to shove the glass right up to their noses.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter” \t ”_blank” https://twitter.com/bob_ham.