Although television has often touched on caregiving through individual characters, the British television comedy-drama “Derek” has caregiving as its focus and is available to U.S. viewers via Netflix.
The series is set in a nursing home and focuses on the caregiver at the home with Ricky Gervais playing as the 49-year-old Derek Noakes, a nursing home caregiver at Broadhill Retirement Home for the elderly who has worked there for three years.
Derek portrays the nursing home’s workers and residents as people who are labeled “outsiders”. The characters “struggle against prejudice, government bureaucracy and constantly shrinking budgets to care for the elderly residents who depend on them.”
Although it dwells in a fictional setting, the problems and scenarios are easy to relate with since most are based on real-life situations such as managing residents, health care issues, dealing with physical, mental, and emotional issues of the residents, raising money for the nursing home, and passing away.
Last fall, Netflix introduced “Derek” to subscribers and it stars Gervais (The Invention of Lying, The Office [UK], The Ricky Gervais Show) who is also the series’ creator, writer, and director and first aired in the UK on April 12,2012.
Similar with other works of Ricky Gervais, Derek is filmed in a “mockumentary” style. The show stars, and was written and directed by, Ricky Gervais.
The series also features Karl Pilkington (The Ricky Gervais Show, An Idiot Abroad, Extras) as Dougie, the caretaker at Broadhill, Kerry Godliman (Spoons, Extras, Life’s Too Short) as Hannah, an employee of Braodhill for 15 years, and David Earl (Extras, Cemetery Junction) as Kev, an unemployed person who lives with Dougie and often hangs around Broadhill.
The show takes place in a simple nursing home in most episodes, surrounded by the characters that hang out at the facility minding their own lives. These characters vary from typically aged to otherwise different-from-the-norm and are composed of residents, repairmen, caretakers, other caregivers, or a random, homeless people.
The series featured other settings to show how the characters interacted with other people at stores, bars, and at the seaside.
The character “Derek” is based on one of many characters made by Gervais, who also made an appearance in the stand-up show “Rubbernecker” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2001.
Gervais’s character, Derek, can be noticed that he would often go beyond his work’s regular tasks and job description so he can help the residents that he cares for. The character could be described to be suffering from somewhat, lacking in some mental faculty.
However, Derek’s perky, odd, and shy personality is overshadowed by his gentle, truthful, and courageous spirit. His hobbies include watching reality television shows and game shows. He shows that he has interest in celebrity figures, fame in general, any YouTube related subjects, and most of all, his passion about animals.
Derek is tender, always active in giving help, unselfish, and always has good intentions. His noticeable childlike naivety and lack for show of intelligence makes him vulnerable.
He is often ridiculed, ostracized, and marginalized by mainstream society due to his social awkwardness, physical appearance, and unrefined expression of thoughts.
In the pilot, Derek is found to be fond of Joan, a resident at Broadhill. He often talks about how he learned many things from Joan and has taken the message “It is more important to be kind than to be clever or good-looking.” to heart.
During the pilot, Joan dies and it leaves Derek in pieces. Derek often talks about how Joan taught him things he never even learned at home. This was mostly because he and his mother were left by his father when he was still a baby, and his mother still loved his father.
Many media sites describes Derek having autism, however, Gervais has stated that Derek is not intellectually challenged, but simply stereotyped because, “nearly half of children with an autism spectrum disorder have average or above-average intellectual ability — an IQ above 85 — compared with one-third of children a decade ago.”
Gervais said in an interview that the program was inspired by his relatives who work in care homes: “Half my family are care workers. My sister works with kids with learning difficulties. My sister-in-law works in a care home for people with Alzheimer’s. And four or five of my nieces work in old people’s homes. I always write about what I know.”
He also often stated that Derek is his favorite character, even more than “David Brent” (The Office) and “Andy Millman” (Extras). Gervais added that he enjoyed playing Brent and Millman, but he has a genuine love for Derek as a person.
The series showcases what goes on in a retirement home including the workers and residents. It also shows the problems encountered by nursing home employees and how they deal with it.
The series has received mixed reviews from those who find the show entertaining or those who find it offensive.
Some critics defend the show and even Garvais.
It’s best to watch the show first prior to looking into what critics said about it. Derek as a character may seem unrealistic but he makes the audience realize the hard truth about how we are treating elders and how we should be treating them.
Kevin O’Sullivan, Sunday Mirror‘s TV columnist, says. “Brave of Ricky to risk the wrath of the PC police by playing a character with learning difficulties.” He also adds, “Why exclude the “Dereks” of this world from fictional dramas? They exist in real life.”
Jack Seale said in Radio Times that Derek, “…is un-cynically presented as a hero who is, in Gervais’s words, ‘better than us’ because he lacks ego and guile and merely wants to be nice. Those seeking to take offense at Gervais’s portrayal of Derek will have to look hard”.
Other critics find Derek as unfunny and full of cheap situations that setup its audience.
Ian Hyland, a writer for Mail Online, says, “As well as being written by, performed by, directed by and edited by Ricky Gervais, Derek is also spoiled by him.” He also says, “His hammy performance as Derek Noakes is the biggest letdown of the entire show. Moreover, as a character, Derek is the least believable and least interesting thing in it.”
“…cartoons have been less under-written than this.” says Caroline Frost of Huffington Post
Derek reminds us how we should hold on to our ideals when we were young and how far kindness can go. Society has put too much emphasis on improving intelligence and physical appearance but less on how we should treat each other.
Audience need to see beyond Gervais and focus on the character, Derek and how he interacts with the people in the show and how he sees the world differently.
If you’re into drama-comedies, you may want to check out Derek. If you’re not into the mentally challenged, socially awkward, and elder related issues, you may not like this show.
“It is more important to be kind than to be clever or good-looking.” – Derek
“Kindness is magic”–Dougie
“They deserve all the same pleasures as everyone else. Just ‘cos they’re old, weak and poor – they’re forgotten.”– Hannah