A Disney Channel series that was produced in Canada and ran for four seasons, "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 (and that seems to get worse as the series goes on.)
There certainly isn't a bad core idea with this series - a sort of modern day take on the "Brady Bunch". However, what continues to be rather disturbing is the attitude of the parents, who seem either oblivious or self-absorbed, and how that has resulted in one child that - given free reign to do as they pleased - is arrogant and bratty and another who feels as if her concerns are ignored and occasionally acts out due to frustration about not being heard - while her brother is given free reign (in other words, Lisa Simpson syndrome, without the charm, heart or insight.)
While I was skeptical about how much material the series could mine out of the concept after the first season, the second season of the series was more than a little dismaying, with episodes that offered negative messages and the main characters veering further into being obnoxious. Starting in the second season, the series really starts to feel like sitting in a car with a brother and sister who pester each other during a long car ride ("Stop. Stop. Stoooooopp. Moooooom, ____ won't stop!")
The third season coasts along on the same road, and the parents get worse - when hosting a party in "It's My Party", George (who makes Homer Simpson look like a MENSA member on a few occasions this season - the parents on this series seem to be written as dimmer and dimmer as the series goes on) offers to pay Derek to liven up the party to keep his "party rep". Bryan Cranston's performance as the father in "Malcolm in the Middle" still stands out as a highly underrated (it's ridiculous that he didn't win an Emmy - while "Malcolm" had its flaws, the episode "Rollerskates" is pure Cranston genius) effort that saw Cranston's character cause unintentional chaos and get in trouble and do childish things, but at the end of the day, Cranston brought heart to a character that meant well.
Cranston's character chose not to learn his lesson (and remain generally miserable), but at least he got that there was a lesson to be learned - there's no hint that the characters in "Derek" understand their behavior isn't positive by the time the credits roll. The parents in this series are almost written as "parent-bots". In "Derek", Derek breaks up with his new girlfriend in order to avoid buying her a Valentine's Day present, a lesson he learned from his father, who did it in high school (and how would he know if the father didn't tell him?)
The father comes into the scene shortly after and Derek thanks him for the advice - to which the father replies with a blank smile and without hesitation says, "You're welcome." In another episode, Casey has to go to the hospital on her 16th birthday - rather than letting the party go waste, Derek takes it over while Casey is in a hospital bed. In "Adios Derek", Derek fails Spanish class and his parents believe that the best choice for Derek's punishment is to go on a trip to Spain for 6 months (!?!)
The performances continue to be iffy, as the cast isn't terrible - it's the material that causes the series to become tiresome. 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 in their occasional scenes together, but once again, they often choose to look the other way when things get chaotic in the household - and the series doesn't play the bad behavior for laughs (as "Malcolm" played it for dark comedy) - it just is.
"Life With Derek" 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 continues to be just too much: I found Derek's obnoxious, smug behavior tiring and without any sort of parental supervision, the fighting between the siblings seems (and feels) endless.
27. 3- 1 11 May 07 Two Timing Derek
28. 3- 2 18 May 07 It's Our Party
29. 3- 3 31 May 07 Misadventures in Babysitting
30. 3- 4 23 Jun 07 Slacker Mom
31. 3- 5 7 Jul 07 Power Failure
32. 3- 6 21 Jul 07 Don't Take a Tip From Me
33. 3- 7 28 Jul 07 The Bully Brothers
34. 3- 8 5 Aug 07 Home Movies
35. 3- 9 11 Aug 07 Show-Off-Tune
36. 3-10 26 Aug 07 Summer School Blues
37. 3-11 11 Sep 07 Grade A Cheater
38. 3-12 25 Sep 07 Adios Derek
39. 3-13 15 Oct 07 Fright Night
40. 3-14 5 Nov 07 Sixteen Sparkplugs
41. 3-15 26 Nov 07 When Derek Met Sally
42. 3-16 3 Dec 07 A Very Derekus Christmas
43. 3-17 7 Jan 08 Ivanwho?
44. 3-18 11 Feb 08 Rumor Mill
45. 3-19 3 Mar 08 Derek Un-Done
46. 3-20 7 Apr 08 Not So Sweet 16
47. 3-21 19 Apr 08 Driving Lessons
48. 3-22 19 May 08 Make No Prom-ises
49. 3-23 2 Jun 08 Cheerleader Casey
50. 3-24 16 Jun 08 Allergy Season
51. 3-25 29 Jun 08 Things That Go Bump in the Night
52. 3-26 5 Jul 08 Derek's School of Dating
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: Promotional interviews with stars Leggat and Seater.
Final Thoughts: "Life With Derek" has a decent cast, but the material sinks it - the characters are unlikable and the series attempts to play up bad behavior alone for laughs. The DVD set provides fine audio/video quality, along with a minor extra. Fine for fans, but I wouldn't recommend it to newcomers.