On Derek and #KindnessIsMagic

Now, as you may or may not know, Ricky Gervais is responsible for the amazing Netflix original series, simply titled Derek. The first season is fairly short, containing only 7 or 8 episodes, but it has garnered itself a massive fanbase and Twitter following.

So, I sat down one night about two weeks ago and decided to see what the fuss was about. The first episode (which is really the pilot episode) was ... dreary, and you'll understand what I mean in a minute. The show follows a man named Derek Noakes, as he works at a retirement home called Broad Hill. Every day I spent about half an hour with Derek, and the elderly folk at Broad Hill, and was introduced to Derek's friends Hannah, Kev, and Dougie. By the end of the episode, I was crying. It was also at this pivotal moment that the phrase "Kindness is magic" was introduced. It's taken off with wild success and is a wildly used Twitter hasthtag (#KindnessIsMagic)

That's what I mean by the fact that it's dreary. It also isn't helped along either by the often-times very cringe worthy remakes made by Kev, who somehow manages to come off as oversexed - though this is, I assure you, a pretext. Kev spends most of his time spouting off random sexual tidbits while toting around a big tin can that one can only rightly assume contains beer while dressed as the dirtest of dirty old men from the 1980s, while Doug rants away in his office about the various bits of "shit" that residents collect and attach sentimental value to; kick knacks that aren't worth anything to anyone and just take up space. But while Doug may not be able to fathom the sentimental value attached to silly items like a porcelain frog, he valiantly speaks up and defends both the home, it's residents and Hannah when administration tries to cut budget costs even further on the already cash-flow challenged home, or belligerent, greedy old cows who start to make a scene. And for that, I can't help but like him. Even Kev, by the end of the season, will make your heart warm just a little bit as he delivers his very open, honest and devastating personal assessment of himself.

The show will wrench your heart strings, but it's peppered with humor and words of kindness that makes me wish there were more people in the world such as Derek. You might wonder how you can fit comedy in such a bleary and hopeless setting as a retirement home. And it's a fair question, as one or two of the residents have passed away by the end of the first Season - which leads to the result of my crying, wrapped in blankets, clutching a box of tissues.

I found this beautiful little highlight reel, which I think I've watched by now at least a floppity-gillion times (and if you don't get THAT little reference, it's courtesy of Robin from How I Met Your Mother).

The show touches on a whole host of issues from how we treat the elderly, to religion, love, and acceptance. The conversation had on the show about religion was especially enjoyable, since Gervais regularly riles up countless Twitter users with his own views on the subject of God. But, it's no surprise that God follows Gervais on Twitter and they do have a very tongue-in-cheek relationship. It's very cute, and usually quite hilarious. God also enjoys Derek (the show) as well, just FYI.

Derek Noakes, may or may not be autistic, but as one character quickly points out to High Management, who cares? Does it matter at the end of the day? Derek goes to work, cares very deeply about the residents and will always ask what it is he can do to make life a little easier for these folks who are nearing the inevitable end of their journey. I found an episode review where a council administrator surveys Broad Hill, and stumbles all over himself, trying to ask Derek if he's autistic. Gervais has gotten feedback about Derek (both the character and the show) since it first aired, and the author of the aforementioned review has missed the point entirely, I think. For me, this show isn't about how well Gervais portrays someone while a mental illness, and since I'm not well versed in autism I can't really say his performance is either "good" or "bad." For me, it's the message - look past what they're all doing (even Kev, writing twat in the back of a crab) and just listen to what they're saying. This show is a case of where the message is more important than the action. Derek asks this council member if being autistic would make him a different person. He answers no. Then he asks if he'll die, if he is autistic. Again, the gentleman answers no. Then, Derek pointedly asks what the problem is. What touched me about this, is that it applies to more people than just Derek - it applies to people with mental illness, or some perceived "disability." They are who they are. They're aren't going to die, they aren't causing harm, and above all else they're a person just like everybody else. Now while I get that that sounds a little idyllic, it doesn't have broad spectrum applications to every single person. Yes, some people might suffer from complications of whatever disability they have, but Dr. Seuss said it best, and I think Gervais is just beautifully paraphrasing: "A person's a person, no matter how small." Gervais also had this to say about Derek:

"Derek was meant to be different. He was meant to be marginalised by society. He was meant to draw assumptions by uncaring, thoughtless people who needed to label and pigeonhole individuals for their own peace of mind. He was meant to surprise and undermine stereotypes. And he was meant to look odd, speak funny, have bad hair and no fashion sense and not give a fuck about such things because he knew they weren't important. He knew what was really important. Kindness." 

You can find the rest of Gervais' message about Derek here.

It's here that Gervais really touched on something important. Kindness. #KindnessIsMagic has exploded all over Twitter, with users tagging photo's of random acts of kindness - everything from delicious cupcakes, drawing attention to World Mental Health Day, or a duck leading a blind dog. This #KindnessIsMagic movement proves that viewers have really latched on to Derek, his sunny personality and in tribute to him are embodying his spirit of doing something positive, and being kind. This, I think, speaks volumes about where we're all headed, as a species and a global community. When there's news coverage everyday about violence here, bombings there, shootings somewhere else, and a general air of worldwide strife and struggle, #KindessIsMagic is highlighting the small, simple actions of just doing something kind for another person, and opens the clouds just a little so that we can all see the silver lining just a little better.


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