Having avoided Ricky Gervais for many years since he made an offensive comment against sufferers of M.E, I was particularly cautious when advised by my friend to watch Derek, his latest television venture. From the outset, it appeared to be a distasteful comedy with Gervais playing a handicapped care home assistant, and the press supported this with its negativity and criticism. Nonetheless I gave it a chance and watched the first series.
As can be seen from the title of the show, the central character is Derek Noakes, a kind and compassionate care home worker, under the management of Hannah, played by comedienne Kerry Goldman. Karl Pilkington plays a bitter, indifferent caretaker and David Earl is the cringe worthy, horny middle aged man who spends his time at the care home, despite not working there. Gervais presents an unusually well suited group of characters as they all have entertaining interactions and their conversation fits them well. By this, I am led to reflect upon the example of Derek and Doug, who have many comical debates about very insignificant matters, such as the misplacement of a decorative frog that Derek keeps in the home (Doug actually had it sold at a jumble sale, which Derek repurchased unaware that it was the original possession). All of the characters represent, to a certain extent, the working class members of society and the (no offense intended) under achievers with little ambition. In harsh reality, working in a care home is not seen as an ambitious job, or an appealing one when considering the stereotypical elements of the job, such as taking the elderly to the toilet and changing bed sheets. Of course, this is not the case and I must reiterate that this is a stereotype that has been established of the job. Certainly one that Gervais is well aware of, as he tackles the use of the stereotype by certain characters such as teenagers and upper-class snobs.
The setting of the care home, naturally, brings with it the theme of mortality and death. Throughout the series, we see a handful of residents pass away and watch montages of old photographs and memories to highlight the reflection on the delicacy of life. I found that the show was not only touching in the respect that we see old residents dying, but it was unique in the way that it made me appreciate my life more, and I think this is what Derek is intended to be. Derek is always happy and he is always willing to put others first. He is shown to be a simple-minded character, but despite his drawbacks in intelligence he is perhaps the most intelligent character, as we find Doug, Kev and Hannah admitting towards the end of the series. They all have their regrets in life and they know their imperfections, but they would rather model themselves off Derek because of his stunning embrace on the nature of kindness. This is what leads me to the subject of Gervais’ portrayal of Derek and the controversy surrounding it.
The criticism that the show receives is mainly due to Gervais supposedly mocking the disabled again. In retaliation, Gervais is quoted as saying: “I have never thought of Derek as disabled” and stating that if he were to be disabled, he would have employed a disabled actor. Although it is easy to suggest that Derek has some form of disability from the way Gervais plays him, I see no reason as to why the show should get the criticism that it does. Are we forgetting Dustin Hoffman, Sean Penn and Tom Hanks, all whom have played disabled characters? No one can portray a disabled character without seeming to be ridiculing to some extent, simply because it is something that can only be experienced, rather than acted. So if I may brush aside the criticisms of Gervais’ acting, I’d like to give my overall judgement of the series, which I finally composed upon seeing the finale.
Episode six of Derek was a rollercoaster of emotion and truly a showcase of Ricky Gervais’ writing skills. In my opinion, I seriously view Derek as a maturing of Gervais as he even embeds balanced philosophical beliefs into the show. We all know Gervais is a strong Atheist, so to have the subject of religion addressed in the final episode with a balance of respect is impressive to say the least. Derek reminds the audience that it doesn’t matter whether you believe in God or not, because being kind is all that matters. Ever so poignant, especially with the consistent soundtrack of Ludovico Einaudi throughout the series. Although during the final minutes of the episode, an instrumental version of Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ is played, which I found particularly effective in my collision of emotions. So for thirty minutes, I found myself sitting in my room with tears dribbling down my face (I didn’t look too cracking going to a lecture with red eyes). What is truly remarkable about the series finale, and what I keep reflecting on as I write this, is that in just a matter of seconds, I could go from crying to laughing. This, for me, really pointed out the skill of Gervais’ writing as it is tricky to be able to manipulate the audience’s emotions like that, and with everyone I know they have reacted the same! In a final act of kindness, Derek stops the car to reunite with the father that was absent during his life as Kev reminds us one final time of the beauty of his compassionate nature.
So big thanks are in order to my friend, Rory, for recommending this series. Had he not done so, I would have not stumbled upon possibly the best television series I have watched in quite a while. It has also allowed me to change my perspective on Ricky Gervais and realise that he is more talented than most people think he is, and Derek is the ultimate example of this.