Netflix’s Derek hits all of the right emotional points.
If you haven’t heard about Netflix’s new series Derek, you’re probably living under a rock. Between the mountains of publicity Netflix itself has put into the show to all of the tweets that series star Ricky Gervais has put out there, this series has become quite the news item. It’s been deemed controversial (I’ll get to that in a bit) to sappy (I’ll get to that, too), but it’s become the water cooler topic of the week.
Derek is about, surprise, a man named Derek (Gervais) who works in a nursing home. Derek is a simple, kind soul, someone everyone should strive to be. He truly cares about the patients he looks after. Derek is joined in his endeavors by his best friend Dougie (Karl Pilkington), a disgusting sexist pig of a man named Kev (David Earl) and the saintly manager of the home, Hannah (Kerry Godliman). This is as much their story as it is Derek’s.
Now let’s start with the controversy. In the UK, people were affronted because it has been assumed that Derek is mentally handicapped. Here’s the thing, though – we’re never told that. It is surmised by one passing character in the show that he may be autistic, but there’s never a diagnosis. Derek is just different. He’s immature, likes to wrestle with his friends and is nice, but there is absolutely NOTHING in this series that indicates he is mentally handicapped. However, the controversy is that Gervais has made a show about the “magic mentally handicapped man.” This show is not about that, though. This show is about the kindness of Derek’s heart. Personally, I find that those who have taken a disliking to the series for this is trying to stereotype the character and I feel that is wrong.
Second, the sweetness of the series has been questioned. Yes, this is a feel good show. If you don’t want to feel good, just don’t watch it. There is nothing wrong with a little sweetness now and again. You will laugh, you will cry, you will smile and you will cheer. If you have problems with that, don’t watch. I found it refreshing. Considering the setting of a nursing home, you would expect a modern series to be a complete downer, but the wonderful thing is that it’s not. I attribute this to Gervais’ writing.
It was rather ballsy of Gervais to write a series set in a nursing home. The patients could have easily become the drama and comedy of the show. But Gervais does something unexpected: he adds a level of dignity and respect to the aging and dying. And yes, there is dying, as to be expected in such a setting. But it is handled so beautifully as a part of life here.
The acting is top-notch and each of the show’s front runners – Gervais, Pilkington and Godliman deserve Emmy nominations next year. Even as his disgusting turn as Kev, Earl shines when he talks to the camera about his character’s regrets, showing an honesty completely unexpected from that character. Gervais is brilliant as Derek and has created what might be his most likable character ever. Godliman as the home’s manager, who truly cares (and if anyone says that’s unrealistic, I can point you to some similar individuals in similar jobs that I personally know who are just like that) is a light in what could be a dark and sad world. Pilkington surprises when his character chooses to speak up and berate those who would tie up things in red tape from behind desks. The nursing home residents are wonderful, too, filling out the cast with something that feels both honest and real.
The only issue I have with the series is the constant reminders that Derek is kind. As this is one of those mockumentary-style television shows, other characters are constantly on-screen telling us how wonderful Derek is. We get it. It’s already evident. We do not need to be reminded of it.
That aside, though, Derek is a beautiful and moving series about people who care for the elderly – those in society who usually tend to get thrown away. I would go so far to say that if you don’t like this series, you may need to question if you even have a soul.