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Why Ricky Gervais's Netflix Series "Derek" May Just Change the Way We View Growing Old
I’m at that crossroad in life where I have one foot in my youth and one foot in my old age. I can look back and relive my recent successes, and I can look ahead to a time when others will have to care for me. I am a vibrant, youthful 60 year-old who feels grateful for this wisdom. As a recent retiree from a 36-year teaching career, I still have so much to do; however, I recognize the limitations of the time I have in which to do it. I am also at that age when caring for elderly parents is a reality. The pain of losing a parent is palpable. I can no longer ignore the need to research what is out there for my loved ones who will soon need round-the-clock care. My view of elder care, in general, has not been a positive one. I’ve always been afraid of ending up in a place where my old body and mind are neglected. And yet, one little British television show has come along to challenge my beliefs about growing old. Everyone should see this series because words simply aren’t enough. Hopefully, the following observations will compel you to watch.
Even in Our Advanced Years, We Still Have So Much to Teach. Bravo, Ricky, for giving us a fully-fledged autistic character who serves to underscore the beauty of our elderly. In one memorable scene, Derek, brilliantly played by Ricky Gervais, is sitting with one of the women he helps in this small, private care facility. She is napping and he is holding her hand. He tells the unseen documentary interviewer (the fourth wall is broken much like in the series “The Office”) that she is his favorite because she makes him feel special. Derek tells us that during their daily card games, she always tells him that being handsome and clever is not as important as being kind. Derek innocently says, “I am not handsome or clever, but I am kind.”
Our Lives Will Always Have Meaning. In one scene, after Derek’s festive 50-year-old birthday party given by the hilarious and kooky staff, the elderly residents are asleep in their comfy, living room chairs. They are simply too tired to walk back to their rooms after a lively day and night of music, dance, food and alcohol. When the camera pans the residents, a dream sequence appears over their heads. We see who these viable people were in their youth and how their lives touched others. I had to wipe away tears to see the screen clearly.
The Youth Will Gain a Kinder Perspective by Being Around the Elderly. Community service for potential young felons is a built-in feature of this rural care home (somewhere in the outskirts of London). Ricky Gervais writes some very poignant scenes that revolve around the hardened youths and the soft, sweet residents. The message here is that the elderly have the time and the patience to listen to others. By the time we humans live into our 80’s, there isn’t much left to judge or criticize because we have done and seen it all. The unfolding of how the bitter youngsters come to understand themselves by caring for others who love quietly and unconditionally is truly masterful.
There Are Kind Caretakers. Hannah, played by the extraordinary Kerry Godliman, is the quintessential combination of all things good in a care facility staff member. As a young, single woman with no children, Hannah dedicates her life to managing this care home. She loves each resident as if he and she are her own grandparents. Her tolerance for Derek’s disabilities is magnanimous. Hannah sees the inherent good in everybody and becomes everyone’s darling (even meeting her adorable boyfriend through his grandmother in the home). One of my favorite Hannah moments is when she head butts a cheeky young twit for making fun of Derek in a pub. When Hannah can no longer listen to one more cruel word, she quietly walks up to the mean girl and head butts her to the ground. Calmly, Hannah leads Derek out the door with her as he laughingly marvels at her spunk.
Our Golden Years Don’t Have to Be Sad and Depressing. Even though many of the elderly people in this series are probably retired actors, I’m sure there are a few who were plucked out of convalescent homes specifically for this show. The reality of living into our advanced years comes alive on the screen in up close and personal camera takes. It is fun and uplifting to see how the residents react to the antics of the outrageous staff members (the actors are utterly delicious in these roles). The chemistry just works. You can see how joyful the elderly actors are by being a part of this madcap series. It helps me to imagine that I might truly be as social and eccentric as I am now when I have to be cared for in my elder years. And, if my final living space is as nutty and loving as the place presented in this delightful show, then maybe death won’t be so scary after all.