Ricky Gervais’ new Netflix series After Life is a darker and more solemn affair than we’ve come to expect from the creator of The Office, Extras and Derek. Written, directed by and starring Gervais himself, After Life tackles grief, addiction and depression with mixed results in this hugely funny, if tonally flawed 6 part series.
Months after losing his wife and soul mate of twenty-five years Lisa (Kerry Godliman) to cancer, Tony (Gervais) just can’t seem to get over her and refuses to envisage a world without her in it. In fact the only thing keeping him from taking his own life, is the thought of leaving his beloved German shepherd behind, a dog he promised Lisa he would take care of no matter what.
To help him come to terms with life without her, Lisa has left Tony a series of instructions in form of a video imploring him to carry on enjoying life to the fullest. However to everyone’s despair, Tony has no desire to keep on faking it, which soon results in growing animosity between him and his worried brother-in-law and boss Matt (Tom Basdale), and the rest of his colleagues at the local newspaper. In between daily visits to check on his ailing father (David Bradley) who barely remembers who he is, Tony strikes up an odd friendship with local junkie Julian (Tim Plester) in whom he sees a lot of himself. But can a new friendship with feisty Scottish nurse (Ashley Jensen) help bring Tony out of his depressive state, or is he too far gone to even care?
Gervais offers a touching, and at times truly devastating account of grief and solitude in a story which turns nihilism into an art-form. And while nobody can deny Gervais’ comedic ability both on and off-screen, there does seem to be a fair bit of reductive thought-process employed whilst broaching some very serious issues. This isn’t to say that After Life doesn’t make some valid points on the way we deal with the death of a loved one, however where things don’t quite add up is in the way some issues are perhaps tackled almost too superficially, which in turn makes it hard to buy fully into the idea.
Gervais is faultless in his depiction of Tony, he offers him as broken man who has decided that the world is an awful place and that everyone in it is worth very little of his time. Elsewhere, Diane Morgan (TV’s own Philomena Cunk) does a great job as Tony’s Kevin Hart obsessed colleague, while Roisin Conaty does a great job as the “tart with heart” who Tony turns to in his hour of need.
Overall, After Life will make you cry, laugh and smile with its almost childlike optimism. And even if its gags don’t always land, it still provides a respite for the usual dross being served by most half hour shows these days.
After Life airs in Netflix from Friday 8th of March