It’s true that the first season of Ricky Gervais’ After Life may have wrung the emotional impact from the story of Tony Johnson, an acerbic, atheist, local newspaper reporter dealing with the death of his beloved wife.
The first season felt like a standalone narrative. While Tony wasn’t exactly jumping up and clicking his heels at the end of the season, the future, and Tony’s prospects for a happier life, seemed to be a little brighter. He had a burgeoning romance with Emma (Ashley Jensen), the nurse who cares for his dementia-suffering father (David Bradley). He had a dog. He had his cemetery friend Anne (Penelope Wilton), and an odd pair of non-work friends in his mail carrier (Joe Wilkinson) and a prostitute (Roisin Conaty) who he pays to tidy up his flat.
He also has his brother-in-law Matt (Tom Basden) and a seemingly endless amount of videos of his departed wife Lisa (Terry Godliman), which he watches often, to the point where I’m thinking my wife and I should begin recording each other. You know, just in case.
In order for the second season to work, Tony had to regress somewhat. Because he’s still too hung up on his late wife, the relationship with the nurse wasn’t working. Then his father passed away this season. As an atheist, Tony wasn’t hindered by any moralistic objections to suicide as a means to escape his misery, and in this season it becomes a real possibility.
Meanwhile, Tony has to deal with a bunch of side plots in his life. His brother-in-law’s marriage is on the rocks, and his therapist (Paul Kaye) is a head case. Roxy, the prostitute, and Pat, the mail carrier, begin dating. Lenny (Tony Way), the co-worker/photographer Tony spends the most time with, brings his girlfriend and her overweight son into the character roster. Plus, Tony has to be the one to save the newspaper office from closure.
All of this in six episodes.
This is, naturally, a showcase for Ricky Gervais. I enjoy his sarcastic, agent provocateur sense of humor. I respect his right to be an atheist, and his commitment to rational thinking and logic. I’m not a huge fan of making suicide seem like a viable option in almost every single episode. Yes, I know. It is always an option, but not one that someone who is clearly depressed should dwell on.
I still feel Tony Johnson’s pain and turmoil in this season. Maybe not as strongly as I did in the first. And, without ruining everything for you, I will say that the season ends on another high point. But, so did the first season.
Netflix has already renewed the series for a third season. I hope Tony survives that one.
Firewater’s I-Miss-Doing-Nothing-with-Lisa Report Card: A-
Still poignant, unexpectedly funny in places, and totally Ricky Gervais. Don’t watch if you’re not already a fan or if you’re potentially suicidal. Seriously.