Ricky Gervais takes a turn for the sweet and humanistic in his latest series, "Derek," available beginning today via Netflix streaming.
In the past Gervais has starred in dark comedies "The Office," "Extras" and "Life's Too Short," often playing a caustic character. But in the seven-episode "Derek" he has cast himself as a developmentally disabled man who works in a nursing home.
In its initial 30-minute episodes the show doesn't put a diagnosis on what exactly is going on with Derek -- a penny-pincher wonders whether he's autistic -- and viewers may expect a reveal that Derek actually lives in the home. That doesn't happen in the early going but neither does the series go home with Derek.
In addition to Mr. Gervais, "Derek" also stars Mr. Gervais' frequent punching bag, Karl Pilkington, as Dougie, who also works in the nursing home. Derek's friends include layabout Kevin (David Earl) and sweet, caring nursing home worker Hannah (Kerry Godliman, a standout).
"Derek" is a slight series that mixes humor and pathos. Much of the time viewers just follow Derek as he putters about or engages with nursing home residents. Some of the dialogue is heavily accented and difficult to understand.
Mr. Gervais wrote and directed "Derek" and it sometimes feels like an idea in search of a plot.
Within the first two episodes Derek faces the death of a nursing home resident he considers a friend and a bean counter shows up to twirl his mustache, make life uncomfortable for Hannah and gets yelled at by Dougie, who earns applause for his effort. These plots are predictable and suggest a writer struggling to find drama in a story that's just not that interesting as a weekly series.
Although there could be an ick factor to Mr. Gervais playing a character with developmental issues, that turns out not to be the case. Mr. Gervais creates a character, not a caricature. Ms. Godliman also makes a positive impression as Derek's confidant.
There's an appeal to the gentle spirit of "Derek" but it would have a stronger pull if the plotting was less dull.
A version of this review first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.