Monday, September 23, 2013

Derek - "Kindness is magic"

Grace and I have a new favorite television show. It's a British production called Derek, written, directed by and starring Ricky Gervais.  I'm not usually a fan of Gervais', I find his humor a little harsh.  This show, on the other hand, is brilliant. The entire first series is on Netflix, and I watched all 7 episodes in one week-end. The last episode left me in tears.  Not just a little weepy, either. I'm talking big, gulping, falling over onto the sofa hugging a cat sobbing. Brilliant.

Ricky Gervais stars as Derek Noakes, a care worker in a small senior's home.  The show features a cast of  "quirky characters", working and struggling together to take care of the residents of the home, as well as each other.  The underlying theme is this, that "kindness is magic". And it's presented in a powerful way. Filmed in a mockumentary style, the characters interact with the camera and each other in ways that run the gamut from downright disturbing to heart-breakingly real and crazily hilarious. Sometimes, the most "real" moments are the most disturbing, and the heart of the show is this - through the life and words and actions of Derek, kindness is shown as something that costs something, that can leave scars on the heart of the giver and that shines most brightly when it is least deserved.  

Derek is the kind of show that everyone should see.  After finishing the first episode, I wanted to recommend it to everyone I know. Unfortunately, there is a problem. There is quite a bit of swearing, as well as offensive jokes about body functions and parts, etc. That's not the big problem, though. The power of Derek's message is that he loves everyone. Everyone. And that includes people like Kev.  Kev is a homeless, jobless man who hangs around the home, sleeps on the floor of Derek and Dougie's flat, is the third member of what Derek affectionately calls his gang, and just generally behaves in disturbing, disgusting ways.  There are lots and lots of really gross sex jokes. Lots of references to his lack of hygiene, and just general over-all ickiness.  Kev is a very difficult character to tolerate, let alone like.  The thing is, Derek loves him. Derek's kindness towards Kev is not blind. For the most part, he sees and hears and smells what everyone else does in Kev.  Still, Derek loves him.

That is one of the reasons that I love this show. In the beginning, scenes that had Kev in them literally made me shrink a little back into the sofa. Gervais has done a great job of writing a character that is truly unlikable.  There is nothing of television's classic lovable jerk in Kev. He is not lovable in any way.  Other characters, like Dougie (played by "An Idiot Abroad's" Karl Pinkington), can be a bit caustic but they always have inevitable moments of redemption and latent strength of character. Not Kev. Still as difficult as Kev is to accept, he is real. And being real means that there are moments of vulnerability hidden in the bravado and posturing.  Kev's disgusting behaviour is rooted in weakness and fear, and this becomes obvious as the show progresses. 

The thing is, to fully appreciate the power of Derek's willingness to treat everyone kindly, one has to stick with the show. Keep watching.  At first, I thought, we have to be able to look past Kev's character in order to enjoy the show. But now, I don't think looking "past" Kev is such a great idea.  I think we need to look at Kev, to get to know him even as we get to know the other characters.  Hannah, the manager of the home, has a heart of gold. Dougie, while a serious pessimist with a tendency to grumble incessantly, is fiercely protective of his friends and the residents and stands up for them in the face of manipulation and greed.  Derek is...well, Derek.  And Kev is Kev.

There is a scene in the last episode of the first series, where in true mockumentary fashion and in light of the death of one of the residents, the characters are being asked some fairly deep questions.  Kev's answer to the question of whether or not he has any regrets about his life made me weep. I want to cry now, just thinking about it.  

Derek is just a television show. Kev is a fictional character. He doesn't need us to pay attention to him, to really see him, to accept that he is what he is and to care for him unconditionally. He's not real. I think, though, that we need to do these things.  Gervais has created a show that challenges us to move past our own comfort levels and stay invested in the story, in the characters, even when doing so makes us squirm in our seats.  Not for their sakes, but for ours.  Everyone likes to think of themselves as kind people.  Yet we walk past characters like Kev on a regular basis, and we reason that there are some people who are just too far gone to even care if we are kind to them. Derek doesn't think so. Derek doesn't think about it at all.  Derek is kind because that's who he is. And if we stick with him on the journey, if we give this show and this character a chance, we just may find ourselves, after 7 episodes, listening and really hearing the heart of someone who, it turns out, isn't too far gone at all.  

Keep the tissues handy. Just in case.

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