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