Feb

4

Have You Been Watching Ricky Gervais’ Derek?


Unless you have been living under a rock recently you will have heard, at least in passing, about Ricky Gervais’ new Channel 4 television show, Derek. Derek is a mockumentary which follows the daily affairs of a care home. We are introduced to the older men and women who reside in the care home, the grumpy caretaker who will on occasion exude a softer side, and the manager of the service, Hannah, whose life and soul revolves around her work. The lead character, Derek, is a kind, enthusiastic man who we are led to believe might have a learning disability, or perhaps autism.

There has been a vast amount of controversy and debate surrounding the first show of the series, which premiered on Wednesday 30th January at 10pm. Some people argue that Ricky sets the character of Derek up to be laughed at and mocked, while others feel that the show gives a realistic and kind portrayal of a man who is living with a learning disability.

I am personally a huge fan of Ricky Gervais’ work, particularly The Office, which of all Ricky’s shows appears to have the mockumentary style most similar to Derek. Working in the social care sector, I was therefore extremely eager to watch the programme myself and find out how Ricky had broached what many people perceive to be a sensitive topic.

I happily admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode. From a social care perspective, I was interested to see how the show portrayed first the care home, and then, Derek.

I felt that the show did a great job providing a realistic example of a residential care home. There is a real sense of community and cosiness in the communal area and it is obvious that the project is a home, not just a workplace or office. The staff are clearly passionate about their roles and have a close bond with the older people they spend every day chatting with and supporting.

All is not hunky dory. The manager is clearly run off her feet, working plenty of overtime completing paperwork for audits, running an understaffed project (the majority of the staff are volunteers) and finding innovative methods to entertain residents and run a thorough service amidst continuing budget cuts. These are real life problems that social care staff must face every day and the show gives a very honest portrayal of these issues. Sure, sometimes the show enters into the farcical: For example, a random man is found in a lady’s room when showing the government officials around. Similarly, the government officials seem to relish cutting the budget of the project and seem to have no consideration at all for the people who call this building their home. This is clearly a very simplistic and exaggerated depiction, but isn’t a black comedy allowed some artistic license?

If someone was to be offended by the programme, it might be Ricky’s portrayal of Derek, who seems to have a complete lack of awareness of how funny he can appear. I personally would disagree with this perception of Derek. Derek is honest, straightforward, warm and intelligent. He loves his job, he loves the people he works with and he enjoys his life. I don’t believe that people laugh maliciously at Derek. He is endearing, and it is inspiring to hear someone speak so positively about their life.

If we are truly going to reduce public stigma we have to accept that it is okay for people with learning disabilities to be portrayed on the television. I understand that as vulnerable adults their wellbeing needs to be taken into consideration, but I truly believe that Derek provides a positive representation of people with support needs.

While promoting the show Ricky Gervais has said a number of times that he wants people to see that Derek is “funny and sweet and kind and sincere and helpful and enthusiastic and honest”. I believe that he succeeded in showing this.

Did you watch Derek? Did you also enjoy the show or find the portrayal of Derek offensive? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

 

By Suzy Kennedy, Development Officer

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Comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Dave on March 8, 2013 11:11 am

    Thanks, Suzy, for your interesting review. I wholeheartedly agree with the opinions you express here.

    Coming from the subjective position of being a huge fan of nearly all of Gervais’ work I still feel that Derek is possibly the best contribution he has made to date.

    My personal experience of the world he portrays here is not particularly extensive, however my (saintly) partner holds a position very similar to that of the home manager, Hannah, and she assures me that many of Gervais’ observations hit the mark exactly. Even to the point of random people, like the character Kev, who seem completely out of place in the home. Personally, I was initially disappointed at the inclusion of this character but I judged Gervais’ decision too quickly and after the final episode I now understand the extra important dimension that this added.

    I am perhaps not particularly qualified to criticise Gervais portrayal of Derek but I can say that I have been lucky enough to know someone as special and beautiful as Derek and I can certainly relate to many of the characteristics that were depicted by Gervais’ acting. I have read other reviews slamming Gervais’ “hammy acting” but I’m not sure anyone can really be certain that there is nobody quite like Gervais’ Derek living in our communities. Who or what are they comparing Derek with in order to say he is unreal?

    I feel that Gervais should be applauded and thanked for bringing us a series that was both hugely entertaining and at the same time emotional and humbling. I would like to think that people’s attitudes and opinions are challenged by some of the issues raised. Let the critics argue that Derek is far from perfect; I believe it is a very important and relevant piece of work from an extremely talented and intelligent artist.

    We are fortunate that there are people such as Ricky Gervais who are in powerful positions in the world of media and yet are still keen to provoke thought and possibly even change for the better.

  2. Suzy Kennedy on March 8, 2013 12:31 pm

    Thanks Dave for your comments. It has been really interesting to see the rest of the series play out and it sounds like Ricky Gervais has received an enormous amount of feedback both positive and negative – apparently Channel4 have never had so many comments on their website regarding a series!

    It has been brilliant for social care to appear so much in the media, and a number of my friends who have never considered it a career option before have said that because of the series they would consider working in a care home – we can’t get better press than that!

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