Pleasantly Surprised: Ricky Gervais’ Derek


This is the first of what I hope will be a recurring column about things I thought I was going to hate but then ended up really liking. Remy’s got “Why Haven’t You Seen It,” Lee has “Are You Watching/Reading This,” and what can I say? I want in on this gravy train of ready-made themes to draw upon when I’m trying to hit my deadline on Tuesday nights.

In spite of my borderline insane obsession with video games, I love checking out new television as much as the next pop culture nerd, especially if it hails from the UK. That probably has something to do with my steady diet of Blackadder, Are You Being Served? and  Monty Python’s Flying Circus as a kid, not to mention the Doctor Who marathons I had at my grandma’s house.

Yeah, I was a Whovian before it was cool. Pardon me while I adjust my hipster glasses that I also need to correct my nearsightedness.


I struggle a bit with Ricky Gervais. I sometimes feel like he and his David Brent character are actually not too far off from each other (though that’s probably due to me not giving Gervais enough credit as an actor, but more on that later) and he certainly doesn’t shy away from producing comedy that can be considered offensive by a great many people.

Like Seth MacFarlane, Ricky Gervais is kind of a dude I hate to like. Okay, dislike to like. I don’t really hate anyone in this weird world.

But whenever you see Ricky Gervais on a talk show or anywhere else he gets to just be himself, he’s invariably cracking up, and genuinely so. Genuine laughter is pretty much my kryptonite, as I seem to find it even more infectious than the average person. Gervais seems like he just loves to laugh, and never really gives the impression that he needs to be the funniest guy in the room.

In a world where performance and comedy can be so competitive, I find that refreshing. I dig that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and every time I see him losing it on a talk show he rises in my esteem a bit. There’s also this little gem:

Whatever, I would. I would so hard.

So it was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I added Derek to my Netflix queue—sorry, my list. A synopsis:

Gervais plays 49-year-old Derek Noakes, a care worker in a home for the elderly who has worked there for three years. He likes watching reality television shows and game shows and is interested in celebrities, fame, YouTube, and above all, talking about animals. He is kind, helpful, and selfless, with good intentions. He is vulnerable because of his childlike naivety and lack of intelligence. He is ridiculed and ostracised, as well as being marginalised by mainstream society because of his social awkwardness, unattractiveness, and lack of inhibitions. Derek says it is more important to be kind than to be clever or good-looking. Many media sources describe him as autistic, although Gervais himself has always stated that Derek is not mentally disabled. (Via Wikipedia)

PS. Netflix: you make it okay to say “queue” on the regular only to rip the term away from us later? You’re breaking an Anglophile’s heart over here.

When I heard Gervais was going to be playing a mentally disabled (maybe) character who worked in a retirement home, I prepared for the worst. But then my husband and I watched the first episode one night while eating dinner, and we both were weeping into our linguine bolognese even before we could add the requisite a-fresh a-pepper.


I’m going to avoid spoilers, so I won’t get too deep into an analysis, but I would highly recommend you at least try the first episode of Derek on for size. While the series is not without its faults—it deals openly in cliches (though they’re satisfying), and the soundtrack is particularly emotionally manipulative (though it works)—it does manage to inject a lot of heart into what is sometimes an overly cynical world. Gervais gives an absolutely, no question, all bets off fantastic performance, especially in the first episode. Fair warning: that first one is a bit of a cryfest, but subsequent episodes don’t skimp at all on the comedy.

Also worth noting are Karl Pilkington as the caretaker Dougie (in a role written especially for him), and Kerry Godliman as Derek’s coworker at the facility, Hannah. In fact, despite being told over and over again that Derek is the heart and soul of the show (another of the show’s weaknesses—we get it, show; we’re watching you), I would argue that Dougie and Hannah are the characters that truly fill those roles.

Derek’s naivete leads to grandiose gestures of kindness, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but watching Hannah and Dougie struggle with all-too real and hard-hitting adversity and still find the strength to be kind is a sight to behold. It’s also a reminder that within all of us is the power of altruistic compassion.

“Kindness is magic. It’s more important to be kind than clever or good looking.”

  • I started watching it last week, it is a great thing to watch. Truly emotional in every sense.

    “Tadpole Hitler” gets me every time.

  • I love me some Gervais. It’s already rotting in my queue as we speak while I’m vacationing in San Andreas.

  • Ceiynt

    I watched the series last week. I agree with XenoIrish, an emotional show to be sure. Gervais is awesome in it. It is awesome all around, but I don’t see it getting a second series.