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“Derek” aches, it’s the type of show that you feel rooting around in your chest hours after you’ve finished watching it. But from the man who created the painfully tragic David Brent, is any of this surprising? From the start, show creator Ricky Gervais tugs on the collective heartstrings of his audience. “Derek” is often funny and occasionally grotesque, but above all, this Netflix semi-original is dripping with sorrow.
But that’s what we signed up for, isn’t it? No one turns on a show about the residents of a retirement home expecting anything less than utter tragedy. Melancholy seems to be where Gervais feels the most at home (so to speak) in “Derek.” The residents fill their time with board games and menial events while trying their damndest to ignore the spectre of death hanging over each of their heads. The staff, if possible, are far worse. Gervais lingers on these lost souls dissecting their sadness almost to the point of sadism. For a comedy, “Derek” is hard to watch.
Derek (Gervais) is the saccharine core of this show. A member of the staff with questionable mental facilities, Derek tows the line between frustratingly sweet and excruciatingly simple. Yet without Derek, the series would simply be a morass of bitter weirdos who are charged with looking after equally anomalous retirees. Derek is the only kind of character Gervais would write for himself, socially challenged yet the anchor among the ghosts that inhabit this show. Derek, in his thankless caring, gives the staff and the residents reason to give a damn even when death is knocking on the door.
This, of course, is the truly tragic driving force behind Derek. Death, it hangs like a grim mobile above the entire show. We have the residents, dying and alone, surrounded by caretakers who are younger yet ultimately staring death in the face day after day. The staff cannot avoid the fact that they will one day die, it’s all around them. And when faced with that harsh, unavoidable truth, what else can you do but examine your own failings?
With the great beyond quietly calling, the staff are forced to either wait placidly or make the most of life while it remains. If you haven’t figured it out already, the “staff” is you, the viewer.
“Derek” is painful and sweet; it’s like watching your best friend leave the country to pursue a dream job. It hurts; it hurts like hell, but ultimately we know it’s for the best. The cast of “Derek” must suffer so that we can recognize the truth behind our own mortality. “Derek” asks us one question: When death comes calling, will we be filled with regret, or the certainty that we made the most of every minute given to us?