By Lydia Lucas
Last year saw another project from Ricky Gervais that has sparked many conversations in the world of entertainment. The show is Derek, and its second season is coming to Netflix next month. Here’s a look back at the first season as we prepare for its return.
Through his kindness, the title character of Ricky Gervais’ Derek teaches the audience about his uncommon and beautiful belief in human nature and the worth of all people. This theme is very straightforward, not shrouded in ambiguity, not supported by vague symbolism, and can be seen clearly throughout the television series. It is a reflection of the main character, because Derek is a straightforward individual. He doesn’t sugarcoat things, because he doesn’t need to. He is always joyful and kind.
The viewer is sort of under the impression that Derek might be a resident at the nursing home where he works until a councilman shows up and starts asking questions. People are so preoccupied with someone’s disabilities that they can’t see past it to know the person for who they are. It’s a very institutionalized dehumanization. Derek doesn’t need help or treatment. If anything, we need to learn from him.
This is something that the other three regular characters have already learned, and through their actions, it shows. Derek’s self-professed best friend and roommate, Douglas, is the most surprising. Douglas is a mostly cynical and negative character. He’s the person who gets the most frustrated with the state of the world, and as the series develops we discover that he is also the one who gets the most angry when people are rude and awful, especially when it involves Derek.
Then there’s Kev, a disgusting individual who hangs around Broad Hill and lives with Douglas and Derek. He’s disgusting in hygiene and in attitude, yet Derek still likes him. Throughout the series the viewer thinks that he’s clueless as to the nature of his situation. He seems very full of himself, blissfully ignorant to the way others perceive him, but in the last episode of the series he reveals quite the contrary.
The show challenges accepted assumptions about the mentally disabled and the old. Derek himself challenges the very idea of a first impression with every new person he meets. Derek is billed firstly as a comedy, but even when I’m laughing at Derek, I’m not really laughing at Derek. He gets joy from simple things. For instance, his joy and fascination with silly animal videos on YouTube is only a small thing, but the delight it brings to him is transferred to the viewer as we watch him mouth along to the words of “Hamster on a Piano.”
Derek tells a heartwarming, underdog story while providing its audience with signature Gervais comedy.