Thursday, April 10, 2014

in defense of Derek

As discussed more times than I can count on this blog, I love to find a good Netflix show and gorge myself on it, so it is literally the subject of  every sentence that comes out of my mouth. One of the last shows I became obsessed with was the Ricky Gervais dramedic gem, Derek, about a sweet-natured man with an undisclosed disability who works at a retirement home. [Tangent: The entire first season is seven 22 minute episodes, so you can knock it out easily in an evening on Netflix.]

 I entered into it fully expecting to laugh uncontrollably or at least be in the midst of that signature irreverence; trust, it is there, but brace yourself that you are gonna cry at least twice at very unexpected times. I was impressed with Gervais's ability to reel it in and not play it overboard.

This made me well up....pretty bad.

After finishing episode seven, I fiercely started googling to see when season 2 would be upon us. [Tangent: My mourning won't be long because it's in May. WHEW!!!] One of the articles I stumbled upon was this one about a father of a teenager with autism who was deeply offended by the show. Spoiler alert: I disagreed. [Tangent: This should not be shocking. Ya'll know I am contrary.] Another Spoiler: I don't have autism. However as someone with a disability, I understand paying close attention to a depiction in the media that is close to your own. [Tangent: It should also be noted that I am the same gal that wrote a 10 page paper in college in defense of the Jimmy and Timmy on South Park as modern day advocates. Don't get me started on this subject...because I get very long-winded, but long story/short- they were completely mainstreamed educationally and socially and act as an astonishingly accurate commentary on the politics that go on within the physically disabled community. Maybe one day I will post it and you all will see how incredibly dorky I am....or it will blow your mind.]

I'm the champion of most anytime a person with a difference is featured in a media role. Instead of approaching it with scrutiny and judgement [Tangent: Which is really hard given my snarky tendencies!] , I usually try to approach it with what they are doing right. Having a person be in the forefront with some kind of disability is rarely a bad thing, because it normalizes disability and makes it less of a taboo. The more you see it, the less you will stare at it for being unusual. 

The man featured in the article said that Gervais's Derek is offensive to those on the autistic spectrum and that he is too often played for laughs. [Tangent: A part of me wants to know what this man thinks of the character of Max on Parenthood.]  Although I honor his feelings, I seriously could not disagree more. Primarily because it is not even stated for sure what Derek has autism. At one point, a visitor tries to question him about his diagnosis and Derek says he is not interested, so it's unfair to assume that he should be the spokesperson for that disability.

Secondly, Derek is not the fall guy or the butt of all the jokes. [Tangent: least no more than anyone else. He is treated equally, which is a very progressive step.  If anything, he is probably shown as more the voice of reason more than anything else among the cast of misfits.] He is the show's protagonist and moral fiber without playing it like he is on a pedestal or an inspiration or any of those "after school special/very special episode" devices. He has quirks and layers and is a fully formed character that you cheer for and care about. [Tangent: Some very hardcore men have admitted that they teared up at the finale.] 

Even if you are not watching it to dissect it's PC-ness, you should watch to see things like this:


What do you think? How hard did you cry? Is the baby monkey riding on a pig song still in your head?


  1. i cried every single episode! and cried with laughter at the baby monkey sequence. oh my gosh i love derek.
    i agree with you about him. he doesn't represent anything specific, and i can't even think of another character like him on tv, someone who is affected with a disability of some sort but isn't the butt of the joke all the time or only inspiration. i feel like he is a fully formed character with good feelings and bad feelings. i cannot wait until the next season!

  2. Yeah...I mean he is beloved but it's because he is a good person...not because of his disability...whatever it is.


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