Okay guys, I know we all really like pooping all over Ricky Gervais and all his ideas, but this is me personally asking you to please not write off his newest project, the Netflix original series Derek, until you’ve seen at least two episodes.
This is the part where I admit that I’m a long-time fan of Ricky’s, and I think he’s one of the funniest people on the planet, but even I was hesitant to watch his new show, in which he was rumored to play a mentally-challenged character who worked at a retirement home. Especially after I’d seen a few ads in subway stations of him proudly grimace-smiling at the camera, I was nervous that the subject matter might not be taken seriously. From everything I’d heard about the show — and everything I know about Ricky — I was assuming it was a comedy, and there were a lot of elements with the potential to cross the line into inappropriateness.
Not that I always mind that, especially from Ricky, but there just wasn’t anything about the show that jumped out at me as a crucial way to spend my time when I’m already behind on Breaking Bad, have never seen an episode of Homeland, and would like to theoretically be knowledgeable about movies that are coming out now by the time the Oscars roll around next year. I was pretty ready to write it off.
But above all else, I’m susceptible to peer pressure, so when three separate people recommended it to me, I decided I had to see for myself. Surprisingly, they all said that it wasn’t a comedy at all, but more of a drama, even though it employs the same mockumentary format as previous projects like The Office.
So I watched the first episode. And guys, I’m only two episodes in, but I have to tell you that that additional episode made a huge difference. It takes you a while to get used to Ricky playing someone who’s mentally challenged. You have to kind of emotionally vet him to make sure he’s not poking fun, and for me that process took slightly longer than the first twenty-two minute episode.
Because the thing is, Ricky’s not really a good enough actor in my brain to pull off playing that type of character. I assumed it would be a caricature, so in the first episode, that’s how I was logging his actions. But the more I watched, the more I was convinced that he’s not playing an autistic person — he’s playing that autistic person.
There’s a certain way we’ve become accustomed to seeing mentally challenged characters played, and it’s typically either by Oscar-nominated actors or assholes making fun of them. But this representation falls somewhere in the middle — I don’t know this guy, but the more I see him, the more I’m convinced he exists. He has some tics, sure, and the way that Ricky holds his mouth for the character is admittedly still distracting to me, but all of that was steadily eroded by his intense earnestness.
Ultimately to me, it doesn’t really matter if the character is well-acted, or if it looks the way you’d expect it to. I think Ricky is approaching it with honesty, empathy, and respect, and I expect to cry in the final five episodes as much as I did in the first two. You’re free to not like it, and many of you probably won’t — but please give it at least two episodes before you decide. I really think it’s worth it.
(Image: The Independent)