Most of the material that Ricky Gervais has produced I have thoroughly enjoyed. The rest I have either simply not seen yet or, whilst acknowledging that it was very clever and acutely observed, found too excruciating to watch (e.g. The Office). However I have wondered about the man himself. Sometimes I got the impression that there is a bit of a cruel side to him. Something of the school bully about him.
Some of his live appearances at award ceremonies showed him to be cruel at the expense of others (and no I am not referring to the Golden Globe awards – they were fair game). One example was when Stephen Merchant, his partner on so many ventures, was being honoured in his own right. Ricky was invited to give a speech about how great Stephen was but basically ended up taking all of the credit at the expense of his friend. Stephen looked really quite annoyed during this. Then there was the Steve Carell incident where Ricky Gervais took back his award for the American version of The Office.
Yes both incidents could have easily been put up jobs with the full cooperation and participation of the victims. But it just looked too convincing and real. Also Ricky’s character in Extras sometimes displayed a nasty, selfish streak. Was this show becoming more autobiographical than was originally intended? Was this the real Ricky beginning to show through? There were other incidents that raised the odd eye brow. Of course no one on the outside knew what was really going on, but I did wonder as did others.
Then along came Derek. The latest offering from Ricky and Stephen. This series is about the lives of people in a care home, Broad Hill, and especially that of one person called Derek. Derek, played by Ricky Gervais, is a mentally disabled worker and permanent resident at the home. We then have Dougie, played by Karl Pilkington in his first proper acting role, the unrelentingly awful Kev and the lovely Hannah that runs the home.
At the time when Derek was about to be shown on British TV the papers were full of critics saying how distasteful this show was and how nothing is safe from Ricky Gervais. My advice to those critics is to always actually watch what you are about to criticise! Otherwise you are just so much irrelevant hot air.
I found the whole experience of Derek to be a warm, heartfelt, uplifting and poignant comedy drama. It will probably rank as one of his better achievements to date and rightly so.
Despite Derek’s simple take on life, he has an unnerving ability to get straight to the heart of the matter, whilst at the same time always seeing the good in people and situations.
An interesting counter-point to Derek is Dougie, a cynical defeatist who also has his finer moments when coming to the defence of Hannah or the home itself.
The series was written and directed with a surprising amount of compassion and insight that will probably prick quite a few consciences. The final episode pretty much went for the emotional jugular. I doubt many people would have remained dry-eyed, especially when Derek finally goes up to his long absent father, forgiving his past mistakes with a warm affectionate hug.
Cynics might say that to Ricky Gervais this was just another rich dramatic ground to tap into. I do not think so. He had Derek as a character in his head for some time and wanted to put him into his own show, and what better surroundings than a residential care home.
The only uncomfortable thing about this series is that it reminds us that as a society we have increasingly ignored the old as being irrelevant. They are of course just a part of us and the same, but with more wisdom and insight to offer. If only we had the common sense to recognise that more often.
Both Karl Pilkington and David Earl are new comers to acting, but you would not know it. They both gave cracking performances that added to dynamics of the show. Ricky’s performance was also completely convincing as the lovable Derek. As for the flawed but saintly Hannah, played by Kerry Godliman, I wonder how many marriage proposals she will get!
Certainly the world would be a better place with Derek in it.
If some of Ricky Gervais’s antics have previously caused me to question his character, then this series has put any doubts to rest. No one cruel and selfish could write material like that. Those antics were just that, a clever bit of acting and a put up job.
Hopefully a second season will be on its way. I will be looking forward to it.