TV DVD Review: Derek (UK, 2013)


In a recent photo shoot for The Hollywood Reporter, Ricky Gervais is captured flipping the bird to the camera, whilst burning money with the smoke of his cigar. Say what you will about him, but I think he’s brilliant. His aptitude in developing comic relief which showcase the raw reality of banal existence is spot on. Where shows like The Office and A Idiot Abroad were particularly cringe-worthy – focusing on mockery, dehumanisation and cruelty – Derek takes Gervais out of his comfort zone and into a brand new territory: sentimentality.

Successfully re-commissioned for a second series, Derek is a dramedy set in a nursing home. Parodying the documentary form, the series explores the interrelationships between residents and workers and ultimately, their relationship with the outside world. Derek –played by Gervais – is the nicest protagonist the latter has created, the polar opposite of David Brent and Andy Millman. When you see Derek for the first time in the nursing home, you automatically shift in your seat. He is slightly simple, socially awkward, meticulous and a hunchback. Immediately you assume, ‘Fuck, now he’s making fun of autistic people?’ But no, the show isn’t about that. Derek probably is autistic (it is never discovered), but Gervais’ portrayal is so sincere and beautiful that you quickly put aside your reservations and start enjoying the show for what it is. Derek is not a comedy in the sense that Gervais’ other works were. Yes, there are a lot of funny moments, but Gervais’ objective is a lot more sincere this time round.

Derek is a worker at the nursing home, but he goes beyond his job description to help those residents that he cares about. Unlike Brent, he is selfless, kind, popular and actually funny. His favourite person is Hannah – a colleague and friend who has worked at the home for 15 years – who he says would be the beneficiary if he won “Secret Millionaire.” Along with Hannah, Derek also has two other best friends: Dougie and Kev. Dougie – played by Karl Pilkington – is the caretaker at the nursing home, a handy man who pretty much does “everything.” Although this role is pretty much an inflated version of his character in Idiot Abroad, we can’t look past Pilkington’s skill of portraying self-deprecating, cynical guys. Typecast he may be, no one does it better. David Earl plays Kev, Derek’s homeless friend who hangs around the home like a bad smell (literally), making crude innuendoes and shitting his pants. In some respects, Kev is a lot like Gareth Keenan: inappropriate, sleazy and just plain fucking weird. They are both sexual predators and they are both mocked by their friends. Unlike Gareth however, Kev is genuinely liked and looked up to by someone: Derek, however misguided it may be. Derek loves everybody and is proud of his infinite kindness “It’s more important to be kind than clever or good looking. I’m not clever or good looking, but I’m kind.” Essentially, this is what the show is about: human kindness and Derek is the incarnation of this.

Gervais’ portrayal of Derek is extremely moving. Everything about Derek is sweet. His favourite things are Hannah, YouTube, reality programmes, animals and frog sculptures. In a recent interview, Gervais stated that Derek is his favourite character. With his nervous flicking of his fringe, his big grin and his shuffled movements, you can’t stop looking at him. Particular adorable moments include the episode where Derek calls the ambulance in an attempt to save a dying bird and the pilot which shows a particular scene where he is cutting the toenails of a resident. His incessant displays of kindness and child-like naivety make it impossible for the viewer not to fall in love with him. Hannah – played by Kerry Godliman – comes close to stealing the show with her expressions and selfless nature. She loves Derek unconditionally and stands up for him when he is being picked on by outsiders. There is one particular tear-jerker of a scene where she stays up all night at the home to supervise the animals that have been brought in to pacify the residents. Like Derek, she’s a real sweetie and goes way beyond her job description to help and befriend those she cares about.

If you want to feel really good and gooey inside, watch Derek. It is hardly pretentious and there is no hidden motive. Gervais has delivered a really beautiful story in an attempt to highlight all the brilliant aspects of humility and kindness. According to Dougie, Kev and Hannah, Derek is the best person in the world, a person who “chose kindness” and who “hasn’t got a lot going on in his head, but what he has got going on is all good.” Where Gervais’ other shows made you cry from laughter, Derek makes you cry for real. It’s about a kind, innocent man who loves life. That’s all it is and its brilliant.


By Dina Amin. The complete series of Derek is in stores now on DVD and BluRay.


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