A Disney Channel series that ran from 2005-2006 and was produced in Canada, "Life With Derek" most resembles a modern "Brady Bunch", taking the structure of the classic with a modern setting and attitudes - rather than making any sort of attempt to get along, the children constantly bicker with one another and try to set boundaries in a house that seems awfully small.
The series focuses on George (John Ralston) and Nora (Joy Tanner), two adults who get married and bring children to the table: he has Derek; Edwin and Marti, while Nora has two daughters - Casey and Lizzie - who aren't thrilled at the prospects of moving into George's now smaller house. While the children don't always get along, the battle is largely between Derek (Michael Seater) and Casey (Ashley Leggat). While the parents have never been happier, the oldest children who can't go a few minutes without a squabble. Despite Derek's incredibly rude actions, the parents also seem either too distracted, too easily forgiving or just plain oblivious. That's one of the show's main faults - despite some upsetting actions by the kids, the parents rarely seem to do much about it.
The show's ability to stray from the usual 110% cheeriness that is seen in this sort of family show is appreciated, but the show's core of letting Derek and Casey argue out every little thing becomes repetitive (having to have to listen to two teens bickering eventually becomes repetitive and irritating, whether on TV or...well, just about anywhere.) It sometimes seems as if the arguing between the two characters takes up most of the running time. Additionally, given what appears to be a small budget, the show doesn't have much scope, even for a sitcom.
After feeling that way about the first season of the series, I was somewhat skeptical of the second round of episodes. There certainly isn't a bad core idea with this series - a sort of modern day take on the "Brady Bunch". However, what I think what was at least somewhat disturbing was how the parents took a laid-back approach to, you know, parenting, and how that resulted in one child that - given free reign to do so - was arrogant and bratty and another who felt as if her concerns were ignored and occasionally acted out due to frustration about not being heard - while her brother is given free reign (in other words, Lisa Simpson syndrome.)
Additionally, the other concern that I had regarding the series was the fact that I wasn't sure how far the concept could have been taken, given that the series never really seemed to take the core concept beyond basic levels. While the series comes up with some decent plots for the second season, the problems still remain.
A main issue is that decent plots there are (Casey doesn't believe she's popular enough to run for class president in "Venturian Candidate", so she makes Derek run with her positions on the important topics) often are ruined by the obnoxious nature of the characters. Rather than having some sort of lesson about how she should believe in herself enough to run, the episode has Casey getting humiliated and a debate turn uncivil.
Elsewhere in the episode, Lizzie estimates the family's carbon footprint and then when the parents find out, rather than saying that they will show the kids and work with the kids on how to change, their first reaction is to wonder if they should move to avoid embarrassment when other families find out. When it's found out that the family of the leader of the Girl Scout troop has a worse footprint, the parents are relieved and now pleased that they don't have to do anything because someone else is worse than they are. "Lies My Brother Told Me" has Casey lying to her teacher regarding her homework, then having the teacher lying to her to get her to admit her lie. It all ends with... a good laugh. In "The Bet", Casey changes her image to a punk just to get a guy to talk to her to win a bet. Her parents are horrified by the guy...until he says he's thinking about becoming a lawyer.
If this series appeared to be a spoof of the usual family sitcom where everything is wrapped up sweetly and with a message, that would be fine, but there's nothing that would indicate to me that this series is anything but committed to the material as is. These characters seem genuine in their actions or - in the case of the parents who are thrilled to do nothing - their inaction. Some of the negative messages in this second season are dismaying, especially given the target audience. If the show's bad behavior is supposed to be a joke, it's not funny and doesn't really go anywhere different in season two.
The performances aren't improved this time around, but it's the material that once again ruins matters. Seater doesn't tone down any of Derek's more irritating aspects this time around. While Leggat's character is in the right the majority of the time, her character isn't without bratty moments and isn't particularly likable, either. Ralston and Tanner have nice chemistry, but once again, they not only seem oblivious, but painfully so.
"Life With Derek" has gained quite a following, and while the show's ability to be a little less cheery than most of the family sitcom genre is welcome, it goes overboard: I found Derek's obnoxious, smug behavior tiresome and the show's near-constant focus on the battle between Casey and Derek made me wish the show would move beyond watching two unlikeable characters who continue to get on each other's nerves.
14. 2- 1 201 1 Jul 06 Date With Derek
15. 2- 2 202 29 Jul 06 He Shoots, She Scores
16. 2- 3 203 22 Sep 06 Middle Manic
17. 2- 4 204 29 Sep 06 Venturian Candidate
18. 2- 5 205 6 Oct 06 Battle of the Bands
19. 2- 6 206 13 Oct 06 Lies My Brother Told Me
20. 2- 7 207 20 Oct 06 Crushing the Coach
21. 2- 8 208 27 Oct 06 Prank Wars
22. 2- 9 209 3 Nov 06 Freaked Out Friday
23. 2-10 210 17 Nov 06 The Bet
24. 2-11 211 1 Dec 06 Mice and Men
25. 2-12 212 8 Dec 06 Dinner Guest
26. 2-13 213 15 Dec 06 Dating Game
VIDEO: Koch Vision presents "Life With Derek" in 1.33:1 full-frame. Presentation quality was generally very good, as the show looked consistently crisp, considering this appears to be a fairly low-budget TV production. No edge enhancement or print flaws are seen, but a couple of trace instances of pixelation were spotted in a few scenes. Colors appeared warm and bright, but could appear a touch smeary at times.
SOUND: Crisp, clear stereo soundtrack.
EXTRAS: A short, EPK-style "Behind the Scenes" featurette, a set tour with actor Michael Seater and interviews with cast and crew.
Final Thoughts: I tried giving "Life With Derek" another chance, but the second season goes over the same ground - a group of unpleasant, irritating children and two parents who choose to remain cheerfully oblivious while their kids go through life behaving badly. The DVD set provides satisfactory audio/video quality, as well as a few minor extras. Fine for fans, but I wouldn't recommend it to newcomers.