This is a charcoal of Ricky Gervais and his costar in AfterLife, Anti. I don’t own the copyright to this image, but Mr. Gervais himself has generously given me permission to sell it.
AfterLife is a series Mr. Gervais wrote, directed, and stared in about a man dealing with grief after his wife died of cancer. As the mind behind The Office, Extras, and An Idiot Abroad I have to say this kind of work was not what I expected from Gervais. In this portrait which was initially a promo shot for the series it has Gervais looking happy.
About the closest I have ever seen happiness accurately portrayed on TV is in my favorite show of all time, Derek which is a masterpiece by Gervais. I know, I never heard of it either. I know the portrait was from a promo shot from AfterLife, but I am going to switch gears and talk about Derek which was just as much of an inspiration for this portrait.
Derek is set in an out-of-the-way nursing home that doesn’t seem to be the center of anything. While the setting is off the beaten path, the storylines Gervais weaves touch the most central aspects of the human experience. It becomes the center of the universe.
The protagonist, Derek Noakes (Ricky Gervais), is an employee of the nursing home and is adorably oblivious, socially awkward, and slightly eccentric, but is the eternal optimist and personification of kindness.
One of the most poignant scenes that illustrates what makes a good life is Derek unintentionally sparring with Pete (Tony Way), a grandson of one of the residents and also a young, successful investment banker in Season 2 Episode 2.
Pete states that he “manages very rich people’s money.” Derek responds curiously, “Why, I thought you said they were already rich?” This leads to a Socratic questioning masterclass by Derek.
“Don’t you want more money?”
“I haven’t got any money.”
“Exactly, so if you got a better job…”
“What’s a better job than this?”
Pete looks around at Derek’s coworkers and quickly recalibrates.
“Okay, let’s say you get a job that pays you lots of money, you can buy more things, you can get a better house, a better car, then you’d be important and get an even better job.”
“So that you’d make more money.”
“So that you’d make enough money you could retire early.”
“So you could do exactly what you wanted all day every day.”
“That’s what I does now.”
Pete looks like his whole world has been turned upside down. You can see him questioning everything he has prioritized. You see him transform right before your eyes. Just like Pete, we can instantaneously get knocked down a couple of pegs and simultaneously jump way ahead with the insight gleaned from a few “why’s.”
In the series finale of The Office (US Version) which is based on the BBC Series The Office created by Stephen Merchant and, you guessed it, Ricky Gervais, Andy Bernard says, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the ‘good old days’ before you’ve actually left them.”
Gervais takes us through a frustratingly short two season ride with Derek and gives us a chance to do just that. You see people enjoying their twilight years infused with Derek’s wisdom and you get to reverse engineer your life to make it more meaningful now.
So if you have already watched AfterLife please do yourself a favor and watch Derek.