This is the first time I have felt the need to write a post about an individual TV programme, and I apologise in advance to those of you outside the UK, who may be unable to watch it. Like many of us, I often spout the time-honoured phrase, ‘there is nothing worth watching on telly.’ This is not true though, as there is a great deal worth watching, and also worth the time invested. You just have to look for it, and be a bit selective. I am currently enjoying the new Stephen Poliakoff drama on BBC, and welcoming the return of Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’, with its futuristic plots and unusual story lines. But this post is about ‘Derek’, and I digress…
It is not easy to like Ricky Gervais. He has a certain smugness about him, that may or may not be intentional. Julie cannot stand him, and does not even like to be in a room, when he is on TV. I am never sure if this is deliberate on his part, or just an unfortunate side of his personality. I have always though that he was very clever, if not always as funny as he thought he was. When watching his self-parodying characters on late night sketch shows, I had a feeling that he would one day become a household name. I loved ‘The Office’, but never ever saw it as a comedy. It was a drama, about a pathetic person, yearning for popularity, and feeding vicariously off the lives of those around him. The next hit series, ‘Extras’, took a huge swipe at the cult of personality, and managed to get celebrities to lampoon themselves, and even queue up to do so. There were the huge stand-up performances, televised for all to see, often showing flashes of complete brilliance, and bizarre connections, realised at the end.
Then Hollywood beckoned, and it is fair to say, he made lots of wrong choices. His film career was dire, and he readily climbed onto the bandwagon of fame and celebrity status, that he had previously derided. The things that worked so well back home, outright rudeness, bad taste jokes, and blatant swearing, just did not translate well outside of the UK. His presentation and compering skills were just no match for his ideas, and script-writing genius. More recently ‘Life’s too short’, allowed a comedic look at the everyday life of an actor, who happened to be a dwarf. I watched every episode, and I am still not sure if the intention was honourable, or an excuse to abandon political correctness, due to the actual presence of a dwarf in the lead role. I like to think not though, and I am sure there was a better point to it.
Then, he made ‘Derek’. Redemption for all past sins, in one fell swoop. From the first viewing of the pilot, I could see greatness, and I eagerly awaited the full series, hoping it would live up to this first try. I am happy to say that it did. This programme, though perhaps marketed as a comedy, is anything but. Set in a small Old Peoples’ Home, threatened with closure, it tells the story of everyone involved, with incredible kindness, and observations of character, that are just flawless. Anyone who has ever set foot in such a place, dealt with old people, or had experience of adults with learning difficulties, will instantly recognise everyone portrayed. All the cast are acting at an incredibly high level, and producer and writer Gervais, brings dignity and pathos to the lead character, Derek, as never before. The old people are not just used as butts of jokes, or feeds for lines; they have their defined parts, their own histories, and their own stories to tell. Karl Pilkington, in his first proper acting role, lends gravity and compassion to the unexciting role of an odd-job man, fiercely loyal to his companions. Kerry Godliman, as the manager of the home, is completely believable, playing it as if she really did this for a living.
But it is Gervais, as Derek, who really shines. He shows the other side of an adult with a life affected by a syndrome, possibly Asberger’s, or mild Autism. This man is not dependent, he is caring, loving, and incredibly compassionate. Kind to all, loving animals, and wanting only to be surrounded by familiar friends and locations. I cannot understand the criticism of using these difficulties in the lead character. Ricky Gervais has brought them to the public as a whole, and shows us that anyone with these problems, can be just as valuable to society as anyone else. Of course, it is easy to pick at the series. There are no foreign workers in the Home, so that is probably not that representative. There are not many residents either, and a disproportionate amount of them are men. But this is all forgivable, as the intentions are the very best possible; and the political points, about the plight of the elderly in modern Britain, are so well made, without a soapbox script, or sledgehammer antics.
It is just absolutely fantastic stuff, and what TV should be there for. Well done, Mr. Gervais. I take it all back.