Derek is a television show on Channel 4 about Derek Noakes, a man who works at a residential care home. The show was written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Ricky stars as Derek. As of writing this, 3 episodes of series 1 have aired.
Derek is compelling television. Before watching any of the episodes, I had a lot of expectations. For one thing, Ricky Gervais has been tweeting about the program daily, saying that it is his best work yet. For another, it stars Gervais as a man with a mental disability and Karl Pilkington as his best friend and janitor at the care home. Honestly, the premise sounds like someone is taking the piss (to use one of my favourite English phrases.) The promo photos all have Gervais with a greasy haircut and an underbite. Karl, too, looked ridiculous in the photos. Gervais has him dressed up in this long janitor-dress with the “ugliest haircut on the face of the planet” (to quote the character Derek). To me, the show just looked silly and borderline offensive. It looked like a Ricky Gervais star vehicle and a good excuse to make Karl Pilkington look stupid.
Those expectations I had before watching the show were almost immediately forgotten once I watched the pilot. There is nothing but empathy. No mocking, no taking the piss. And both men excel in their roles, in different ways.
Karl first. I’m not sure if Karl can act, or if Ricky Gervais wrote him the perfect character. Karl plays Dougie as a man annoyed with the world, but still wanting it to be a warm, welcoming place — just like Karl, the man. Dougie gets mad at small, stupid things, just like Karl, but the whole time I’m watching Dougie, I only see Dougie. Not Karl. So as confusing as that last paragraph was, what I’m trying to say is that Karl is a very effective actor in his role as Dougie.
Ricky Gervais plays Derek Noakes as an understated, unassuming character. He is hardly the focus of the series, but plays a quiet and often hilarious secondary role. Derek is a sweetheart and you can’t help but like him. However, he certainly doesn’t drive the plot.
In my opinion, the show should be called Hannah. Played by Kerri Godliman, Hannah is the manager of the care home and the emotional heart of the show. As the main care-giver, she has the most at stake, in terms of plot. One of the storylines in series 1 is that the facility loses its funding and will have to fend for itself. Godliman gives a gut-wrenching aside to the camera and explains why she would rather raise the money herself than re-home the residents. It’s a brilliant piece of acting, a moment that has stayed with me for 2 weeks now.
For all this praise I have for Derek, there are some elements of the show that bother me. The pacing often seems either rushed or slow. The soundtrack is often overly leading and sentimental. But these are minor complaints. The show does so many things well, that I don’t really give a shit if it’s perfect. It’s nice to see something different on television. I like seeing Karl Pilkington act. I like seeing elderly people represented as multidimensional characters on television. I like a cast whose shared goal is to be kind to one another.
“Kindness is magic.” – Derek Noakes