Meeting Derek (Derek, Episode 1, Channel 4, April 12th 2012)

Ouch, writing this blog post hurts. I’m enjoying being 31. The great thing about being an adult, of coiurse, is that you don’t need to think about all the awkward things which happened in your past as you grew into your body and worked out what the world was about and how you fitted into it; with an ever-expanding life, you have all the control — OK, some of the control, or at least the illusion of it, which is usually enough — and that means life feels approximately 1000% better than being a youth and completely confused.

Unfortunately, being a writer/author — at least in my case — more or less revolves around re-thinking past events and present machinations, many of mine which are throughly awkward. And as everyone knows, one of the best sources of awkward material — like the time I threw-up down three girls tops in a row (it was food-poisoning, whatever anyone else says) on a trip to Paris — is secondary school. Not only was I one of those poor, lanky children who puberty had decided to make wait forever — group showers were terrifying when you didn’t possess a legitimate pubic bush — but I also had Dyscalculia; a form of numerical Dyslexia which means numbers were a bloody nightmare and telling the time on an analogue clock was…impossible? Yes, impossible. Unless you spent a good fifteen minutes analysing the time (a tricky thing to do when the time didn’t stop…and this was back when only a few people at school could afford digital watches, remember). Even better, I had a massive eagle nose exacerbated severely short hair. Which was covered in gel. I probably also had dandruff.

I tell you what: watch out girls, I’m coming to get you!

Arriving at secondary school, I instantly found myself somewhere I didn’t want to be: in with the thickos. The thickos — that was what everyone knew them as, including the teachers — were a ramshackle mix of individuals who existed in that grim nowhere land where nobody expected anything of you…ever; we weren’t considered special needs, but, in a way, I often thought it would be better if we were. At least that way we’d have been located miles away from the other students who hated us for being different, rather than just down the corridor…oh, and we’d have got free computers and calculators. Not that we really knew how to use them…

Speaking of all things awkward, Derek, the new show written by Ricki Gervais — also starring acting virgin Karl Pilkington from the An Idiot Abroad series — has been pissing people off left, right and centre. First Gervais annoyed a slew of people campaigning for special needs individuals and those with disabilities, then the general public started putting the boot in. Again. You’d have thought by now that people would know that Gervais doesn’t give a monkey’s what other people think; more to the point, follow anything the man does and you’ll also know that he doesn’t think mocking special needs people is either funny or clever. Hence, where Derek was concerned I was willing to reserve judgement.

But then…even for a veteran people-pisser-off-er, it has to be said that Derek looked slightly dubious. Mainly because the concept — the life and times of a man on the fringes of society working in an old people’s home — looked tricky to pull off. I mean…how, really, do you do a comedy/drama about a man with unspecified learning disabilities (Gervais said he didn’t consider the character to have learning difficulties) and not make it in any way offensive?

Well, I think Ricki found a way.

I haven’t bothered to look at any other reviews yet — still a bit early for that — but I’m going to say it: I liked Derek. I don’t think it’s genius or groundbreaking, but, at the same time, you can’t say it’s not innovative. And that’s what I like, because no matter what you think, innovation always leads the way, even if it goes off the rails from time-to-time.

Unless it’s innovation concerning a famous dwarf called Warwick Davis…I didn’t like Life’s Too Short in any way (actually I hated it, and one good scene with Liam Neeson is not enough to carry an entire series) but I thought Derek, on the other hand, was interesting. It reminded me of what happened a while ago when my friend and I were walking down the street and this woman in a car went up on the pavement and reversed into a lamppost. Freaked out by the impact, she put the car in gear and lunged forward, turning the wheel and jamming her vehicle between a road sign and the lamppost behind the car. Nice work! It was hilarious to begin with, watching her go back, then forward, then back, then forward, but after a while the laughter wore off — after a long while…it was summer and the streets were crowded with people who thought this was brilliant, which it was — but then it just became sad. After another ten minutes, we decided to go over to her and try and see if we could help, put her out of her misery, so to say. The woman was mortified, completely in tears, and this was an experience that she wasn’t going to forget any time soon.

Thanks, Youtube.

For me, this was exactly what it was like watching Derek. I knew his awkwardness intimately, and the way everyone else seemed to be in on the joke except him. First you had Karl Pilkington, basically being himself, and then you had Gervais (I mean Derek) with his rambling monologue and jutting lower jaw — a mannerism he has used in the past when making jokes in interviews — at the heart of the action. If you can call it action. Derek isn’t about action, obviously, but actually I found that refreshing. For once, and unlike Life’s Too Short, it wasn’t about piling cheap jokes one on top of the other for mass effect. instead, iit was all about context, relationships and the slowly-building realisation that Derek was really just a lovely bloke who didn’t have a bad bone in him. A man who was so unusually nice that the world as it stands would struggle to accomodate him.

I don’t know where Derek will go, or what people are saying about future — if any — episodes. But if Gervais and co continue in the same way, I’m looking forward to some interesting television. Derek isn’t about insulting the differences, it’s about the magic and optimism that some people possess — just because they’re not as clever as you, that doesn’t mean they’re not decent human beings who shouldn’t be represented by good TV.

Did you enjoy this post? Well, if you did that pleases me! My disability-related comedy novel, The Number 3 Mystery Book is available in paperback here and from Amazon UK. If you live in the US, you can get it from Amazon US here. Thanks for reading and goodbye.

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One comment on “Meeting Derek (Derek, Episode 1, Channel 4, April 12th 2012)

  1. […] Derek first appeared on our screens, breaking that rule and almost every other one that has ever been written – including that old […]

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