Ricky Gervais makes me laugh, even when he’s not trying to. I am a Gervais fan.
I’m not alone in this, I know. He’s hosted the Golden Globes four times. Along with Stephen Merchant, he created the BBC versions of The Office and Extras. He’s won numerous awards, including two Emmys, three Golden Globes, five British Comedy Awards, and seven BAFTAs. He writes, directs and acts, in films and on television. He has a sizeable following, which he’s earned. Lots of people are interested in whatever Ricky Gervais is going to do next.
Gervais’ comedy style is decidedly dark—often satiric and frequently sarcastic. His humor can be constructive and destructive at the same time. Because of this, not everyone likes him as much as I do. He’s adopted a persona of being a brutally honest person. Perhaps it’s more than a persona; it may just honestly be him. His wicked wit is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Maybe you’ve already formed an opinion of Gervais. If you don’t care for his type of comedy, the Netflix original series After Life is probably not for you. If you’ve never watched anything of his prior to this, I encourage you to give the show a chance. At only six episodes, it won’t require a huge investment of time from you.
The show has already been renewed by Netflix for a second season. I’m not sure where the series can go after this first season, but I know I’ll be watching.
In After Life, Gervais is Tony, a man who is dealing with the untimely death of his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman) in the only way that makes sense to him, by being a bitter, isolated man whose caustic wit is used as a weapon to drive people away. Tony is depressed and suicidal. I wouldn’t recommend this show to anyone who’s seriously contemplated suicide, as Tony often makes it seem like a reasonable alternative to living out a bleak, pointless existence. The crushing weight of carrying on is palpable, especially in the early episodes. We get to know Lisa through the videos she left for Tony while her health was on the decline, and we get to understand that their love for each other was strong.
Tony is cruel to all of the people around him. He begins to look upon his ability to say whatever he feels to anyone as a “super power.” While this is often funny, it is also frequently uncomfortable, as cringe-worthy as the worst behavior of David Brent on The Office.
The story being told here is nothing new. It’s about redemption and recovery. You’ve seen other performances where a character transforms from being unlikeable and unsympathetic to something, if not good at least more socially appropriate. As Good As It Gets and Scent of a Woman are two movies that spring instantly to my mind, but there have been many others. Even A Christmas Carol. Scrooge makes a similar turn.
What makes this series different is the presence of Ricky Gervais. His grief, his bitterness, his desire to die, all felt genuine to me, which is a testament to his acting abilities. I’m not going to ruin the entire plot for you, but I will tell you that Tony gradually lets people back into his life. Even while he is pushing his coworkers and brother-in-law/boss away, he’s forming relationships with his infirm father’s nurse (Ashley Jensen), a widow he met while visiting his wife’s grave, a neighborhood prostitute, and a junkie. He’s also seeing a therapist who doesn’t help him at all.
At a certain point, Tony’s outlook on life begins to change. In some ways, since there are only six episodes, this change seems to come too quickly. However, it is a relief when Tony begins to consider the feelings of others more and begins to shed the armor of brutal honesty he had been using to isolate himself from the world. The story arc of Tony’s junkie friend ends suddenly in a manner that, frankly, shocked me. Even now, I’m not sure if what happened was an act of compassion on Tony’s part, or just the act of a bitter, grieving man who hates everyone. Either way, it was a powerful moment.
As the season ends, it appears that important life lessons are learned. Tony seems to understand the difference between honesty and cruelty, and is becoming a better man for it. Which again makes me wonder where we are heading in Season 2.
I enjoyed this series and cautiously recommend it.
Firewater’s Season 1 Report Card: A