Breaking News: Ricky Gervais Does Have a Heart!!

In this week’s blog post, I am going to focus my attention on Ricky Gervais’s new show Derek, as I found the show and the controversy surrounding it far more interesting than either Luther or Blackpool. After Professor Becker described the new show and the hullabaloo that it has been creating, I was bracing myself for a horribly wrong, politically incorrect portrayal of some of the most vulnerable people in our society…the mentally and socially challenged. Like the cynical people that misguidedly ridicule these members of our society for their atypical features, I had absolutely incorrectly judged this show. Instead of the deplorable satire that I had expected, Derek was an honest, endearing, and, at times, touching show that is able to masterfully complement drama with humor. Immediately after watching the short clip in class today, I rushed to my dorm to watch the entire episode.

The reason I think many naysayers pointed foul at this show was because it features Ricky Gervais – a man that has made a career off of being politically incorrect – as a mentally handicapped man. However, not once during the entire episode does Gervais allow his character to be an exaggerated caricature of an autistic man. Yes, it is true that he is obviously acting in a peculiar way in order to portray the challenged Derek, but that is not to be confused with mockery. From Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man to Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, actors have consistently portrayed the mentally/socially challenged in sincere performances and this one is no different; simply because Ricky Gervais has a past history as a crude comedian does not allow us the right to think that his representation is insincere or jeering. In fact, although he is not in the league of Tom Hanks or Dustin Hoffman, I do believe that Gervais plays the part well and is able to effectively portray a very simple and sincere man who is not quite aware of the humor and joy he brings to the people around him.

Another reason why I believe that many people have incorrectly criticized this show is because of its label as a comedy featuring a mentally handicapped character. The problem here resides in the fact that the show is incorrectly billed (that is in my humble opinion of course). Instead of marketing or describing the show as a mockumentary comedy about a challenged man working in a retirement home, one must look at Derek as a “drama” sprinkled with humor and joyful moments created by a special type of lead character. And this point brings about an important and controversial concept: is it appropriate to laugh during this show? Even if you know the show creators are not necessarily mocking Derek, is it still appropriate to giggle or laugh when he says things that are a little “different” to the norms of our society. The answer (once again in my humble opinion of course) is a resounding “YES” for to laugh during this show is not to laugh at the mentally handicapped, but to recognize the simple and joyful lens through which these people look at life that is so fresh and different from our culturally programmed responses to situations that are supposed to be “correct.” And I believe this is the main “draw” of the show. It is the little moments where Derek does or says something that (although may not be logically sound) is so honest, kind, and unassuming that truly connects with me as a viewer. For example, Derek’s kind and innocent outlook on life contrasts beautifully with the cynical, world-wearied view of his co-worker friend Douglass, whom I think we can all unfortunately see a little bit of ourselves in. (In fact, this relationship between the two reminds me of the dichotomy between Lennie and George in the novel “Of Mice and Men.”) This dramatic honesty is fully realized at the end of the episode when one of the ladies at the retirement home passes away and we get to see how Derek handles the situation…a segment of the episode that I will openly admit got me a little choked up.

After watching today’s short clip in class, I had to go ahead and watch the entirety of the first episode to get more of the character. Although the short clip gives a small idea of the nature of the show (the humorous yet honest act of dipping the worm on both ends is pretty indicative), I believe everyone must watch the entire episode, as it is great and will provide a true understanding of the tone and nature of this humorous yet surprisingly beautiful show. I usually hate Ricky Gervais and everything he stands for, but this time he disarmed me and actually has me rooting on his side.

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3 Responses to Breaking News: Ricky Gervais Does Have a Heart!!

  1. Brenna says:

    I think you bring up a lot of really good points here. I think RG would have been A LOT more offensive if that was his goal. One of the only ways to really put people on level ground to really discuss taboo or touchy subjects like mental handicaps is to break the tension surrounding it with laughter. Watching this did paint a relatively thoughtful picture of the issue and I almost think, like you did, that people were almost selling RG short. He’s funny and he’s not a bad actor, and I think he did something new and interesting here.

  2. Audrey says:

    I see your point, and definitely agree that the clip we watched from the show was more insightful and heartwarming than I expected. However, (and this may be a stretch), but I can’t help but think of Ben Stiller’s character in “Tropic Thunder” – “going full retard” seemingly only to win acting awards, and although that character is meant to be funny, it is also a commentary on reasons behind actors taking particularly challenging roles. Playing Devil’s Advocate here a bit – anyone else think that this is might partially be RG looking for some sort of recognition for his portrayal?

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