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'Derek' review: Ricky Gervais finds his inner nice guy

I didn't plan on being so moved by "Derek," Ricky Gervais' latest mockumentary series about a kind-hearted and possibly autistic man working in a struggling retirement home.

I expected Gervais to offend with jokes about old people and his gap-mouthed portrayal of Derek Noakes.
 
Yet this poignant seven-episode series (2:01 a.m. Sept. 12, Netflix; 3 stars out of 4) won me over as soon as I stopped waiting for the acerbic comic to unleash the rude. He doesn't. Gervais instead has written, produced and directed a thoughtful and thought-provoking dramedy that celebrates everyday heroes and the power of kindness while attacking materialism and the way society often forgets people "just because they're old and poor and weak," as we hear in one of the mock interviews.
 
Derek spends his days searching for animal videos on the Internet, creating "Who would win in a fight?" scenarios and showering kindness on the elderly residents of Broad Hill. "They ain't got long, so every minute is important," he says. "I just want them to be happy all the time."
 
That's sums up Derek's hopes for pretty much anyone he meets. He's incapable of an unkind thought, and revels in the smiles he coaxes from everyone.
 
Gervais never completely disappears in the role, but that might be my fault more than his. (It's hard to forget him gleefully skewering celebs at the Golden Globes.) He surprises with some tender, quiet acting and obvious love of the character.
 
Kerry Godliman, however, gives the true knockout performance as Hannah, the facility's delightfully relatable, workaholic manager. Tough yet vulnerable, Hannah head-butts a bar patron being mean to Derek and defends her friend when a money-man inspecting the home asks, "Is he handicapped?"
 
"Yeah. He's too kind for his own good," she says.
 
That's also the view of Dougie, Derek's roommate and the facility's handy man with an unfortunate hairstyle that makes him look like "an egg with sideburns." Karl Pilkington, Gervais' producer and the punching bag on his podcasts, is surprisingly effective as the take-no-crap Dougie.
 
David Earl rounds out the name cast as Kev, a randy drunk who hangs out at the home because Derek has grown fond of him (and he has nowhere else to go). Kev seems to be around to make crude jokes and test viewers' patience for bad behavior, but his presence pays off later in the series.
 
"Derek" has flaws, to be sure—obvious villains, overt sentimentalism and cheesy musical montages (you better enjoy Cold Play), but those nitpicks are easy to forgive while basking in such sweetness.


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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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