Derek: "Episode 1"

(Episode 2.01)

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<em>Derek</em>: "Episode 1"

Derek’s first season provided an interesting challenge for Ricky Gervais: to create a character that had zero unlikeable qualities, but was still able to generate laughs through misunderstandings and the foibles of the human condition. Whether you were a fan or not, it was going to be worthwhile to see how he handled it.

While I still have plenty of questions remaining from the first season of the show, for the most part, I appreciate Gervais’s lofty aims. He is urging us to take a long, hard look at the type of people we might otherwise ignore, particularly the elderly shuffling through their final days in these often cheerless care facilities. And he encourages everyone to try a little harder in our lives to approach our daily interactions with a lot more kindness, a laudable message even if it carries with it a lot of treacly sentiment.

The beginning of Season Two doesn’t let up on these ideals, but the first episode feels unmoored from the seven that preceded it. New characters are brought into the mix, with Derek’s father taking a room in the home and a brash gent named Greg onboard to supposedly help out. Some fresh wrinkles are introduced as it is revealed that Hannah, the chief caretaker, and Tom are trying to have a baby (which leads to the funniest exchange in the show as Tom’s grandmother explains to Derek the difference between a vagina, cervix, and uterus) and Dougie quitting after getting frustrated with the conditions of his job and the home. All of that is skimmed right over, though, and there is no real plot to carry us through to the end of the 22-minute program.

I’m willing to think that maybe this was Gervais attempting to bring us back into the world of these characters gently, but it also seems only there to set up further evidence of Derek’s otherworldly kindness and empathy. That especially doesn’t seem like it needs further establishing. Those are the qualities at the core of the character and the show.

Still, the entire setting for Derek is something you might not see elsewhere. Like The Office, Gervais’s original TV triumph, there’s enough of the monotony of day-to-day life at this home baked into every scene. So much so that no one really blinks an eye when Kev makes an off-color remark or spends some time slurping spilled beer out of the carpet. Those otherwise uncomfortable moments have become commonplace at Broad Hill.

Another carryover from Season One thus far is that Gervais has yet to find that right balance between the crass and the sentimental. Even if the rest of the home has accepted Kev’s presence, his brash and nasty remarks often fly in from out of nowhere. With five more episodes to go, there’s still hope that he finds the sweet spot. But even if not, with how much of himself he is visibly investing in this show, it will still be worth watching every potentially creaky moment of it.

Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.