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Featured TV on DVD Review: Life With Derek: Season Three

April 10th, 2010

Life With Derek: Season Three - Buy from Amazon

Reviewing Life With Derek season three is quite a treat. This is a Canadian TV series and I don't get to review enough Canadian content. Secondly, this is one of the better kids shows out there, even if kids shows are not exactly known for their high quality. Finally, this is the last late DVD I have to review, which means I'm 100% caught up to date... until the next batch of late DVDs arrive.

The basic setup for Life With Derek is...

Nora McDonald and George Venturi meet, fall in love, and get married. This would be a simple love story, except between the two of them they already had five kids. Blending the two families together is a bit of a mess. Most of this mess comes from the two oldest kids, Casey and Derek. Casey is a Type A personality with a strong perfectionist streak. Derek is rather laid back and is used to getting his own way thanks to the lassie-faire parenting of his father, George. Most of the family conflicts in the show are centered on these two, although they have allies. Casey has her younger sister, Lizzie, although Lizzie does try to temper Casey's more extreme plans. Meanwhile, Derek can look to his younger brother, Edwin, as a second-in-command. Or, at the very least, a mercenary he can buy or bully into going his way. Finally there's Marti, the wildcard. As a Venturi, her loyalties should lie with her two brothers. But as a girl, she enjoys being with her new stepsisters. The parents do sometimes get sucked into this, but generally it's the kids that move the show forward.

By Season Three, the series is showing that it can incorporate character growth into its formula, but not too much. Derek is still obnoxious, like when he breaks up with his girlfriend in order to avoid buying her a fancy Valentine's Day gift (a move he learned from his father). However, he's more likely to come to his family's aid than in seasons past, like when Nora needs help with a volunteer project. He even shows a softer side in Adios Derek, in which he may have to go with his mother to Spain after he fails Spanish class. Casey too shows growth, trying to overcome her "Keener" reputation by dating the school quarterback. But her Type A personality gets the best of her in Misadventures in Babysitting, when she tries to over-plan her weekend in charge of the kids. And in Home Movies, when she tries to script her behind-the-scenes look at her family. On the other hand, this does help her pass her driving test in Driving Lessons, much to the horror of the more laid back (and five-time failure) Derek.

There are a couple stylistic elements which I would be remiss if I didn't discuss. There are some minor things like the sound effects, but those are quite common in kids show. However, there's also the "Blue Room". This is a room we see early in the episode where Casey talks to us about the theme of the episode. Throughout the show we cut here to short bits with slices of action based on the theme of the show. For instance, Lizzie and Edwin driving. It's a nice touch that helps the show stand out. Finally, episodes end with some outtakes, which are usually fun.

Extras on the three-disc set are limited to an 18-minute interview featurette with Ashley Leggat (Casey) and Michael Seater (Derek) who clearly have a lot of fun on the show. It's the only extra on the DVD, but that's still better than a lot of similar TV on DVD releases have. Just having a full-season release makes it better than most similar shows.

On a side note, I'm a little confused as to the order the episodes are shown on the DVD, as they are different than the order given on every online source I can find. Perhaps its Canadian air dates vs. American air dates. Or it might just be a simple matter of production order vs. broadcast order.

The Verdict

Life With Derek is one of the best shows for its target demographic (young teens). It portrays a typical dysfunctional family without entering cartoon territory. In its four-year run, it earned eight Gemini nominations (the Canadian equivalent to the Emmy), winning twice. This season it didn't win, but Ashley Leggat was nominated for her performance as Casey. For good reason, as her character showed the most growth. Season Three is arguably the best of the show's run, so far, while I expect the fourth and final season to come out on DVD around the same time the TV movie airs (June in Canada or December in the United States). Definitely worth picking up for fans of the show, and if you haven't seen it, give Season One a rental.

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