“Kindness is magic.” The Wonderulness of the TV Show Derek

I discovered the TV show Derek on Netflix last season, and they just came out with the next 6 episodes of the second season.

“Positive Psychology” is very trendy right now, but if you just watch this show, it’s a simple, funny and direct communication about the goodness in people being what makes us happy, the little things in life.

Without getting into long descriptions, the show takes place at a nursing home, and Derek works there. As the main character, he is very concrete, direct, endearing and sweet. He loves animals and old people, and he believes he is most happy just being at the nursing home.

Here’s what he said about one of the elderly residents, whom he misses: “She’d tap me on the head and it’d make me feel better straight away. Like magic. And she said, ‘Kindness is magic, Derek. It’s more important to be kind than clever, or good-looking.’ I’m not clever or good-looking, but I’m kind.”

That quote sums up the cleverness of this TV show. Among all the big popular TV shows, this is the only one that takes ingredients such as nice people, thoughtfulness, daily living, old people, a nursing home and makes it into pure gold. Normally you’re given terrorism, violence, drugs, evil, sex, death, trauma, drama, blackmail, affairs and you can put any of these together and get a hit tv show if the writing is good. But who is able to make a good TV show with non of the usual soap opera ingredients, where the big signature line is “Kindness is magic.”? It is a much greater challenge to come up with a show based on the simple idea that when you are kind to someone or they are kind to you, you feel better. There are many complicated studies proving why altruism survives in basic human nature, and that doing kind acts increases certain parts of brain chemistry that make you feel good. People read the Dalai Lama saying all kinds of things about why it is good to be good to others, but this show very cleverly demonstrates all this without much complexity of message. And at the same time, it manages to be incredibly laugh your ass off funny. I watched the first episode of Season 2 last night and was laughing every few minutes of the short episode.

Ever since my first experience of art therapy in action with various populations, it has been obvious to me that there could be a great TV show just of the daily weird and funny things that happened at my internship or job. So for therapists who have worked in places like this nursing home, this show is very familiar. We go to places like this on a daily basis, and if we are lucky we have some of the experiences that are depicted in the show.

The show would not work without Derek’s character, created by and acted by Ricky Gervais, who I think wrote the whole show. It’s filmed like a documentary, so you hear different characters talk about working there and working with Derek.

One great scene that illustrates the brilliance of this show involves Derek talking to the grandson of one of the new residents about what he does. He tells Derek he works at an important bank. So Derek asks a lot of questions, like, doing what, “helping rich people with their money”, why, to help them take their money and make more money out of it, why, so they have more money to spend, what for, so they can eventually retire early so they don’t have to work, what for, so they can do whatever they want. Derek is mystified by this and says that he is doing exactly what he wants right now and has little money. The whole dialogue has the feeling of a Buddhist “lesson”, where the young monk talks to the old monk and the old monk seems to make no sense and in the end the young monk is made to feel foolish as the old monk’s simplicity is suddenly clever and truthful and “aha” moment like. In this case, Derek, the seeming “fool” is the old monk and the man in the suit and tie with the big job is the young monk who is thinking inside the box, with old logic.

Derek is the epitome of a certain kind of simple Buddhist mentality, that the key to getting out of the circle of suffering in life is to be a compassionate person and to live in the here and now…


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