It seems to be popular consensus to bash Ricky Gervais. We all loved him in the Office years, there was nothing wrong with Extras and the Invention of Lying was an excellent idea. His stand up shows brought science and atheism to the forefront of entertainment and he brought Willow back.
Then there was some backlash after the Golden Globes and then there was Derek. Now everyone’s having a stab, mostly the Daily Mail sponsored ‘Offenderati’.
I was vaguely aware Gervais had created a new series based around one of his old characters, Derek, who did or did not have special needs. And I was vaguely aware people were suggesting that it was the end of Gervais’s television career.
I watched a quick clip and found it mildly insulting. Who was Ricky Gervais to create a character with special needs? What authority did he have on the subject? Was it just taking the michael? In which case, I wanted to hit him with all the pent up anger seven-year-old me felt towards everyone who ever mocked or stared at my sister.
(Not the sister who I did the knife skills workshop with last week, she can take care of herself. My other sister, who is blind, has microcephaly, epilepsy, special needs, learning difficulties and a penchant to tell you what your Christmas present is just as you begin to unwrap it.)
<——My beautiful sister.
Gaz had attempted to watch Derek and reported back that he didn’t think I’d like it. He said he found it a bit odd. I usually agree with all his televisual taste (though not so much his musical – how many times can one white man listen to a song to which the only decipherable lyrics are ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’?) but while he was out I decided to give episode one a chance.
I found it to be beautiful. I even cried.
It’s not a mickey take. It’s one of the best things Gervais has ever done. It’s a love letter to all those who work in care, who struggle with government cuts and red tape, to the elderly and to those beautiful souls, like Derek and my sister, who are special of needs and open of hearts.
At one point a council official asks Derek if he wants to be tested for autism.
‘Will it change me in any way or will I still be the same person?’ Derek asks.
‘No,’ the council official admits. The autism test won’t change who he is.
‘Then don’t worry about it.’
It takes all sorts to make the world go round. We need our Dereks.
Derek’s inability to keep a secret is perfectly illustrated in my favourite scene. The House Manager, Hannah, asks him to put the tadpoles he’d been keeping inside, out in the pond as the council inspector is coming.
Derek later sidles up to her while she’s with the council inspector and poetically tells said inspector that Hannah had asked him to put the tadpoles in the pond because of the council visit, but Derek’s just going to leave them outside the front door until he’s gone.
It reminded me of my sister, Pip, and her inability to keep a secret. A friend and I were once waiting for some friends to come over and play the board game Articulate, and with time to spare we thought it would be funny to prepare the first few clues and answers so that we appeared really bloody good at the game.
Note. I would like to add at this juncture that I do not tolerate cheating and this is the only time I have ever cheated during competitive sports. (Yes, I count Articulate under that banner. Don’t you?) And I did it for the comedy, as we were of course going to come clean after giving our opponents a thrashing.
Later, the Articulate race ensued and we were steaming ahead embarrassingly fast thanks to our secret rehearsals. Trying to stall a bit, I pretended I couldn’t get my friend’s description of a word. At which point Pip, who’d been sitting with me all day and was well aware of my underhand tactics, declared: ‘Come on Kim, you know the answer is dagger, you’ve been practising it all day!’
Whereas we depend upon our friends to keep our deepest secrets, people like Pip and Derek are a refreshing reminder that the rest of us are constrained by social obligation and a desire to please.
Derek is an incredibly spot on depiction of a grown man who doesn’t think quite like you or I. The fact that Gervais has brought that wonderful kind of personality to mainstream TV should not be denounced or criticised, it should be celebrated.
Maybe people have a problem with the fact it’s Gervais playing the character, a comedian famous for taking the mick out of people, whereas if it was a straight-up serious actor that would be fine. By casting himself in the role, Gervais is ensuring way more people bother to watch it.
I may be biased due to my circumstances. Others, with no experience of people with special needs, may be overly sensitive or biased by ignorance and a fear of offending anyone. But for what it’s worth, Derek definitely gets my vote.
And who knew the legend that is Karl Pilkington could act! That’s the cherry on the icing on the cake that is Derek.