You might not like Ricky Gervais. He’s a bit like Russell Brand- people don’t just go ‘Meh, I dunno.’ They either shout their love from the rooftops, or corner you in a pub for an hour to explain to you how wrong you are for liking them. Being someone who likes them both, I won’t be a hypocrite and try to tell you why you should like the Chubby Funster. I’ll just tell you why I love this show.
It’s hard to describe what kind of show Derek is, which is definitely a good thing. It’s essentially a comedy, but really it’s more than that. The old are almost taboo in western countries. We’re quick to applaud them on social media and sentimentalise them to make us look like good people, but in reality we’re scared of them, because they’re a snapshot of what we will become one day, and our selfie-taking, iPod-listening, sex-chasing selves can’t handle the reality of what we incorrectly perceive as an inevitable decline. We’re scared of depression, cancer, homelessness and old age, because there is a real chance these things could happen to us, but the latter is the worst, because (unless we get cancer) that one is definitely going to happen to us.
Derek is often accused by various critics of lampooning the mentally disabled. I don’t find that is the case. Knowing several people who live every day with loved ones who have autism or Down’s Syndrome, I’ve been told many times that without laughter the task would be impossible. The very folk who judge and point fingers at us for having a giggle at the comic situations which arise from a mentally different person’s unique experiences of life might well be the sort of people who like to viciously ridicule non-disabled people on the internet; because they think it’s ‘should of’, or they can’t do their/they’re/there grammars proper. I know I bloody am.
The extreme liberal viewpoint that the old, the mentally challenged, all minorities of race, religion or sexuality are somehow helpless, and they need protecting by the educated middle classes to live happy lives, is both patronising and insulting. In most cases, any self-perceived altruism is really a mask for Trying To Look Like A Good Person On The Internet. No one asked for your help, Mr Like This If You Agree, or Ms. Tumblr Essay. And if you really want to make a difference, why not volunteer somewhere- a shelter, an outreach center, even an old folks home? No? Don’t fancy actually being near the poor souls whose rights you fight to protect? Best just get back to feeling superior to people on Twitter then.
The older actors on Derek are fully formed human beings doing the job that they love. They are not being exploited or ridiculed. They are not innocent babies. They’ve probably forgotten more swear words than you know; hopefully not as a result of dementia. Any look at behind the scenes footage will show you what a great time everyone had making the series; and where else on television will you see so many senior actors getting paid? One Tree Hill it definitely isn’t, this show.
Derek will probably make you laugh. It might introduce you to the joys of Karl Pilkington, if you’ve never visited that beautiful, round-headed landscape before. It should, with any luck, make you cry like a teething infant who hasn’t been fed or changed in four days. My partner and my child were both blubbering wrecks by the end of Season One. It will make you think about old age- both your own, and that of your parents. It’ll make you reconsider all of your cynical, rat-racing, money-piling, item-acquiring attitudes to life, and wonder if you should have just tried being kind a bit more. You’ll fall in love with Hannah, Dougie, Victoria and all the residents, and you’ll wish you didn’t have to go to bed, so you could Netflix a few more episodes.
Or you might hate it. It’s not up to me to tell you that you’re wrong for not liking Derek, or even for not liking Ricky Gervais. Hey, several of you reading this don’t even like me. It’s fine. Being a modern-day Christ figure, like Ricky and Russell, I’ve learned to handle it. But do give it a try. It’s worth it if only for the surprised faces on the bus a couple of weeks later when you burst into tears while listening to Coldplay.