"Derek is scruffy and people dismiss him. But he has taken the only shortcut that works: kindness. He is pretty perfect because he possesses the only thing that matters, which is kindness."- Ricky Gervais, Channel 4. com interview
That is Ricky Gervais describing his television series Derek, the first series of which originally aired January of this year, before plopping on to Netflix. It received some negative attention when it was revealed the main character of Derek Noakes (played by Gervais) was a mentally-challenged caregiver at a home for the elderly.
Indeed, having versed myself in the satirical humor of Mr. Gervais, the smiling image of Derek and the accompanying phrase "A Comedy Series Presented by Netflix" had me bracing for the worst.
I could not have been more wrong. Derek is one of the most profound and moving pieces of television I have seen, and the finest work Ricky Gervais has ever done.
It is not a comedy in any traditional sense, though it is marketed as such. It is, in fact, a somber meditation on dying in a home in working-class England.
It will not surprise you that there is a lot of crying on this show.
Gervais uses the character of Noakes to embody our childlike gaze when it comes to the big questions, such as "When we love someone, why do they have to die?"
Or "Why can't we treat others with kindness, compassion, and afford them the dignity they deserve?"
One episode features images of the actors who play the rest home residents, from when they were young, beautiful, full of vitality.
It's a stark contrast to the residents' current state, and asks the question:
"We will all waste away one day, but will someone be there with us to hold our hand?"
Working alongside Derek in the home is Kerry Godliman's Hannah, who has been there for 15 years and struggles to find a life outside her job. But for all her personal and professional frustrations, she is a woman who is immensely proud of her work and fiercely protective of Derek.
Godliman hits the right notes. Like the show, her portrayal is honest, touching, but never cloying.
As the home's caretaker Dougie, Gervais stalwart Karl Pilkington plays the mouthpiece of agitation, an oft-grim riposte to a world that tolerates cruelty and bullshit.
And, as Kev, Derek's horndog loser friend who hangs about the home, beer can in hand, doing nothing much, David Earl turns his hilarious obnoxious character into something ultimately poignant. That plays out, in one episode, when Kev is finally forced to admit that the only honest and decent thing he has in his life is his friendship with Derek, without which he would be lost.
It is kindness and compassion that has saved his life.
In an age where cynicism often trumps concern, Derek is a revelation.
Hope you give a chance.
And ignore the marketing.