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by Ben Travers
May 29, 2014 8:54 AM
10 Comments
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Review: Ricky Gervais' Netflix Dramedy Returns with Less 'Derek' and More Sex Jokes

David Earl and Ricky Gervais in "Derek" Ray Burmiston/Netflix

In its first season, Ricky Gervais' Netflix series was a charming mix of comedy and drama, proving the challenging comedian best known stateside for his controversial hosting gigs at back-to-back Golden Globes had a heart of gold (or could at least create a show with a sweet soul). "Derek" was built around understanding one man, and while it wasn't wholly dependent on its audience's slow acceptance of Gervais sans sarcasm, its heart-warming impact was certainly aided by a knowledge of its creator's past. 

Now, in season two, we know Derek. We know Gervais, too. We're well aware of his capabilities as a dramatic actor, even on a show with a consistent level of comedy. Though "Derek" still has moments of sweetness, much of the romance from its initial go-round has vanished, replaced by crude jokes better suited for a light sprinkling -- as they were in season one -- than blanket coverage. 

Balance is the main issue here. Before, Derek's childlike views on life were extolled in a manner befitting a modern audience. Jokes were dropped in at just the right time and with enough frequency to break up anything too melodramatic, a necessary practice for a generation incapable of consuming media without irony. The humor also helped the touching moments land softly.

Season two is all over the map. The first four episodes are heavy on the sex jokes, with Derek's friend Kev (played by David Earl) having his role as an alcoholic sex-maniac elevated past its recommended dosage. Kev's quite a character, played with an excellent amount of sleaze by Earl -- that shitty grin he gives is hard to top -- but he's best in smaller doses, popping up to offer commentary when relief is needed. Kev's not a leading lad, at least not in his current iteration. 

Ricky Gervais in "Derek" Joel Anderson/Netflix

His increased role is forced, in part, by Dougie's departure. Played by Gervais' longtime friend and coworker Karl Pilkington, the genial, quiet maintenance man who played a prominent role in season one exits after the first episode of season two, a seemingly inconsequential departure (other than fondness for the lovable oaf). Yet Dougie comes to embody the missing element of "Derek." He helped form an ideal trio of friends with Derek and Kev, the three playing perfectly off each other and sharing the story loads. Yes, Derek got most of the attention, but Dougie and Kev's love for their coworker seeped into the mechanics of the operation.

It didn't help that Dougie is replaced by Geoff (Colin Hoult), an excessively rude and ill-defined "dickhead" who isn't given much to work with until the season finale. Geoff has the potential to fit in after a forced transformation in the finale, but it's too little, too late for season two. That goes for much of "Derek's" better parts -- most are held back until later in the season, including Derek himself. He doesn't completely disappear, but he's relegated to ensemble duty rather than being front and center. 

He pops back up again in a major way for the fifth and sixth episodes of the aptly brief British program, but even these aren't handled as well as the first season's hankie-grabbing finale. Speaking of, one of the most troubling oversights is the way a big focus from season one fails to pay off. Derek's relationship with his estranged father isn't particularly well examined. It's developed and rounded out by the end of the season, but it fails to be as meaningful as their meeting a year prior. 

A few moments stand out -- sharing a whiskey shot and his father's date among them -- but for the most part, Derek isn't much more of a man after meeting his dad, and he's certainly not a more interesting character. We learned so much about Gervais' creation the last time around and so little here. Origin stories can't be repeated (despite what the comic book movies would have you believe), but characters can be developed and Derek's lack of progress would be infuriating if he wasn't so damn good. He's pure of heart, and even some clunky writing can't touch Gervais' pure understanding of the character.

If anything, season two of "Derek" will be remembered for pushing the boundaries of its two genres. It has some heavy dramatic moments and some extremely light comedic ones. If Gervais could have only found a way to blend the two a little better, perhaps season two could have lived up to its predecessor. 

Grade: C+

10 Comments

  • Deb | June 1, 2014 1:39 AMReply

    Spoiler alert.... After discovering the first season of Derek, I could hardly wait for the next season. I told everybody about this wonderful, smart, delightful series that actually moved me to tears on a few occasions. I think Ricky Gervais is brilliant and the world needed a show like Derek. But this second season really fell flat. It was as if Ricky listened to all the things people liked about the show, and over-exaggerated them in the second season. Kev's over-the-top depravity was so tiresome, I almost gave up a few episodes in. The Hannah and Tom thing was annoying, not insightful. This time around the characters seemed like one-dimensional caricatures. Boring and rather unlikeable. None of them behaved as we'd expect them to. Victoria was dying to hear from the guy, but ignored his call because she was worried about Hannah. Yeah, we get that she loves Hannah but the story line was a bit frustrating, really. The Hannah pregnancy thing... found it hard to believe the strong and good Hannah would shrug off a miscarriage so glibly. And too much--what's that literary device all good writers should avoid?--deux ex machina? Tom rushing back, like we couldn't see that coming? Geoff's character completely transforming--why? Contrived and lazy writing. And why oh why did Dougie leave? That seemed totally out of character for him. I liked that the cantankerous old coot stayed in that job because maybe deep down he loved it there. Him leaving diminished the series. Douglas was a powerful character: a bachelor with bad hair but a good heart. It was interesting to wonder why he stayed there. Erasing him from the story was terrible. He was such a great character foil for Derek, Kev and the gentle old people. Ricky, stop ramming the story down our throats. Go back to being subtle, gentle... make us think. No need to spell it out. Show, don't tell.

  • mcg | June 3, 2014 12:46 AM

    I agree completely with the review and with Deb. I watched the perfection of season one many times over while awaiting season two. Ben Travers has hit upon every problem with series two. The last show was a winner, but it was too late. The absence of Dougie is the single worst problem; yes, it was a trio of Derik, Dougie, and Kev, and it's all out of balance. Big disappointment.

  • Any | May 31, 2014 10:02 AMReply

    What a completely cynical and pretentious review. I'm sure you give a cookie-cutter sitcom like "Big Bang" glowing reviews while condemning a show that seems to be purely an act of love on Gervais' part. This show is low-key, poignant, and examines the GOOD in all of its characters. Stop trying to tear this gem apart and just sit back and enjoy it for its emotion and simplicity.

  • Beth | June 30, 2014 2:03 PM

    I agree fully with this review, and with Deb's commentary as well. I am hoping a season 3 corrects the muddled writing and plot, because I'm not ready to give up on Derek.

  • Dave Dave | May 30, 2014 6:48 AMReply

    Baffled by your high opinion of series 1. It was laughably poor.

  • JE | May 30, 2014 2:58 AMReply

    I'm only half way thru two, but I agree completely. Big fall off the cliff from the first series to the second. Dougie provided at least a bit of a grounding point. Some of the residents had a somewhat interesting story. Not this time.

  • Darrell | May 29, 2014 4:42 PMReply

    Without getting too spoilery....

    There were issues with 'forced' moments in season 2 & nothing was more infuriating than Tom returning to Hanna in the closing seconds after setting off for the airport. But I have to disagree with your assessment for the most part too I'm afraid ;)

    I believe Kev was one of the strongest elements of season 2. Kev's over the top & crude personality is merely a facade for a lonely & troubled man. A facade that melts away to great effect in the touching emotional moments throughout the season. A simple reassuring hand on a friend's shoulder, a handmade gift for a friend; they are the moments that speak to who Kev really is and David Earl plays it to absolute perfection.

  • Tim | May 29, 2014 3:46 PMReply

    I could not disagree with the original article and Andrew ( commenter ) more. The show is full of wonderful, sincere, honest moments and character development across the board. I really liked Karl Pilkington as Dougie but it wasn't a deal breaker for me that he was gone. Nor do I feel the show went down hill as a result. I think people get attached to a character and if they leave, the person gets pissed and holds a grudge against the show. Let it go. The show is still wonderful and I hope it has another 10 seasons.

  • Andy | May 31, 2014 10:04 AM

    AMEN Tim!

  • Andrew | May 29, 2014 12:33 PMReply

    Season 1 provided the audience with a strong 'look at your perceptions of the older generations' vibe complimented with powerful comedic thought.

    Season 2 lacked any sense of depth in each story, the most popular character (dougie) left with ill thought reasoning and was replaced with a poorly written character who provided no comedic value or depth to the story, the focus of this entire series was on the care home workers average struggles.

    Season 1 was thought provoking as it concentrated on the interesting characters, the residents of the home. With weak story lines and 'lazy' writing is season only served as a sob story, if this season was released before the first it would struggle to find and audience and would likely flop.