Gervais gets bad hair, good heart in ‘Derek’

  • By Greg Evans Bloomberg News
  • Monday, September 9, 2013 1:01pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

In Netflix’s tender-hearted dramedy “Derek,” available for streaming beginning on Thursday, an elderly friend tells Ricky Gervais’ mentally- challenged title character that it’s “more important to be kind than clever.”

Sweet advice for life, but does it apply to sitcoms?

“Derek” suggests it does — in the right hands.

When it debuted on British TV last January, some critics saw mean-spirited derision in Gervais’ badly hair-cut Derek.

That complaint seems wildly off base and may have had less to do with “Derek” than with the comedian’s crude use of an epithet for the handicapped in previous stand-up routines.

If anything, “Derek” seems like an exercise in repentance, as Gervais (writing, directing and starring) presents the loveable character with such saintliness that the show routinely risks condescension.

But “Derek” mostly succeeds, both in its “The Office”-style comedy and lump-in-your-throat generosity.

In the faux-documentary format that Gervais popularized, “Derek” is set in a small, middle-income residence for the elderly.

His Derek Noakes is the home’s orderly and all-purpose angel, a 49-year-old man who calls an ambulance for a dying bird and quietly cries at the passing of each resident.

“I’m the luckiest man in the world,” he says, noting that all of his “favoritest people” live or work at the home. Does it need mentioning that a show unafraid to use “favoritest” isn’t averse to some serious heart-tugging?

“Derek” mostly avoids preciousness by creating a credible universe, with the cash-strapped nursing home an embattled oasis of compassion in a callous world.

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