Watching a series like Derek gives you a brief, cruel burst of hope for mankind – brief because there are only seven episodes, and cruel because you realize that people like this just don’t exist.
The show focuses on the employees at an under-funded nursing home: the kind-hearted and innocent Derek (Ricky Gervais), hard-working manager Hannah (Kerry Godliman), cynical caretaker Dougie (Karl Pilkington), and perverted slacker Kev (David Earl). We see how, together, they care for the (impossibly good-natured) elderly residents and interact with the (mostly callous and craven) folk who populate the outside world. It’s sort of an English Forrest Gump, but the characters are even more difficult to understand.
Filmed in a “mockumentary” style similar to Gervais’s The Office, Derek provides some decent laughs but also a surprising number of heartfelt moments. It’s not afraid to drop the comedy altogether; there are solid stretches of the show that are heart-wrenchingly sad. I got hooked from the first episode and watched the rest over the course of a weekend. That doesn’t happen very often.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I had to object to the central premise of the series. “It’s more important to be kind than clever or good-looking,” Derek remarks in the first episode, and as the series progresses more and more characters are won over by his simple commitment to being nice to everyone.
Unfortunately, this just wouldn’t work. It may not be the stuff of which great sit-coms are made, but Scrooge McDuck gave us a much more accurate quote in Mickey’s Christmas Carol: “Kindness is of little use in this world.” It’s sad but true: if your plan for success in life is to be a nice, kind person, the world is going to treat you like a gas station bathroom. Think about it: if kindness was a recipe for success, everyone would be doing it. But look around you. Doesn’t seem like it’s catching on, does it? The complete opposite, however, is true: the richest and most successful people are almost uniformly the most loathsome human scum you can find. And it’s directly proportional: the higher up the person is, chances are they had to be an even bigger bastard to get there.
“But being nice means you’ll make a lot of friends,” you say. Maybe… but think back to your years in school. The kids who were the “jerks” always seemed to have people to sit with at lunch anyway, didn’t they? Of course they did! They usually had more friends than anyone else. One of the (many) mistakes I made at school was trying to be nice to everyone. This is the equivalent of spinning Elmer Fudd’s shotgun toward yourself and yelling, “Duck season, shoot!” Don’t think it’ll help you with the opposite sex, either. Ray Rice beat up his fiancée and dragged her, unconscious, out of an elevator – a month before they got married. Nice guy.
“You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” you say. False. Try calling customer service somewhere and see how much satisfaction you receive from being nice. Then listen to someone who calls and absolutely rips the customer service person a new one – who gets what they wanted faster? Don’t think that things will change as you grow up, either. Have you ever noticed that it’s always the kindest, nicest people who run things at the office? Exactly – I haven’t either. In my first professional job out of college, I decided that I’d succeed if I was as kind and helpful to everyone else as possible. I was marked down on my review because I tried to help people too much. I was told that if someone asked me for help, I was supposed to say, “No. Ask someone else.” I got paid less because of this. No joke.
Derek starts out sweet. It’s got a feel-good message that makes you want to run out and hug people, brightening their lives and reveling in the recognition that naturally springs from the doing of good deeds. But after it’s over, Derek makes you sad, because the world simply doesn’t work that way.
No matter how much you wish it did.