When the Emmy nominations came out last week, I have to confess my suspicion about Ricky Gervais grabbing a nod for his work as the title character on this show. Was this just another Forrest Gump/Rain Man-esque vote for the magical mentally challenged character that helps people see the light? Considering the tone of much of this show’s second season, that wouldn’t surprise me. But after watching this episode, I have changed my tune and feel Gervais has earned the nomination fair and square.
It has to be said that Derek’s huge heart emanates from almost every corner of this installment. It was in Derek’s sheer, palpable joy at doing something as simple as watching an animal video on YouTube, or being at the zoo to commune with the creatures there in person. It was in his immediate embrace of a potential new resident to the home, communicating with her via the bits of sign language he knew. And it especially poured out of him in the aftermath of Hannah’s miscarriage.
In his series, Gervais always knows when to use silence. The most obvious example is that heart-wrenching scene at the end of the second series of The Office, when Tim turns off his microphone so he can finally profess his feelings to Dawn. Here, similarly, he allows only the body language and facial expressions of the people on screen to do the work when Vicky breaks the news of the miscarriage to Derek. Watching Gervais walk shuffle away, eyes brimming with tears as it sinks in was just devastating.
What also keeps turning up in this episode is that poor balance between the comedy and the pathos. Watching Vicky stumble her way through a first meeting with a potential beau was both funny and sweet; listening to Kev’s gross remarks and seeing him ogle the women of the home is nauseating.
I know that’s the point of the character, but it never feels like it fits with the mood of the show. Thankfully, the heartfelt side of Derek wins out again and again, and keeps me coming back to with anticipation. And though he’s got some stiff competition this year, I’ll be pulling for Gervais to pick up another Emmy for his work on this show.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.