After his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman) passes away from cancer, small town journalist Tony (Ricky Gervais) loses all hope and, desperately missing his wife and with a father (David Bradley) succumbing to memory loss, his thoughts quickly turn to suicide, drug use and his newfound “superpower” of being able to say exactly what he wants without consequences. But with the help of his many co-workers, his brother-in-law and nephew, local residents, a fellow widower, a sex worker, a caring nurse and his faithful dog, can Tony learn to move on and start enjoying his life again?
Looking at shows like The Office, Extras and Derek, as well as his own stand-up shows, Ricky Gervais has already proven to be a dab hand at creating very effective comedy dramas that balance drama and comedy brilliantly – shows that are often hilarious while also having a heart and hitting hard in the emotional moments – and After Life is another perfect example of this because his latest Netflix show is very often laugh out loud funny while also being admirably moving, emotional and relatable, I’m sure, to those who have gone through similar troubles.
On the one hand, After Life is indeed very funny and it’s one of those rare shows that actually got me laughing; most times, I can appreciate how a film/TV show can be funny, without actually laughing, but this show actually got all the laughs out and I often ended up smiling so much through the comedic scenes. Because Ricky Gervais is someone who actually makes me laugh heartily, his comedy shows I find to be just my taste, and in After Life, it’s so fun to watch him be as Gervasian as you’d expect, throwing the F and C bombs around everywhere, saying exactly what he wants and generally being loud, outrageous, outspoken and maybe even someone we wish we could be more like in real life. The funniest part of the series, for me, was Tony’s reaction to Kath’s (Diane Morgan) ideal/questionable choices for a dinner party – I couldn’t keep a straight face.
But of course, After Life also goes to some very dark places and as Tony repeatedly, tearfully, watches his wife’s final recorded message and thinks back over the good times he had with her, he finds it impossible to cope and as he sinks into despair and hopelessness, he often thinks of suicide and heroin use but is given advice and is supported by various people around his small community. And in these more dramatic and harder hitting moments, Gervais manages to keep things genuinely tense, heartfelt and sometimes shocking without ever really overdoing it or appearing manipulative or fake, although it’s maybe laid on an inch too thick in the series’ closing moments, with several happy endings for many different characters, some characters spout “trailer worthy” speeches that aren’t exactly realistic, and, like in Derek when he overrelied on various Coldplay tracks to create a certain mood, Gervais does the same thing again here with some Lou Reed and the old Extras favourite Cat Stevens. Hmmm, is that really a negative point? Probably not, just pointing out one of his old tricks.
The cast of After Life is a lovely bunch and you may be surprised at all the familiar faces that pop up now and again. As previously mentioned, Gervais is incredibly genuine and both hilarious and heartfelt in the main role; at times, he’s playing a version of himself – swearing like a trooper, pointing out all the idiotic behaviour of modern life, expressing his views on religion – but Tony is also a deeper, darker and more troubled character than anything he’s ever really played before so we get to see a different side to the popular actor/writer/director and he definitely convinces as someone who’s in mourning, a character who lets his deepest emotions be made known. He is as hilarious as we know he can be while also excelling in the more tender scenes and Gervais is a very strong lead throughout.
Backing him up, Kerry Godliman is warm, sweet and smile-inducing when we see her as Lisa on Tony’s recordings, Tom Basden is a nice enough chap playing Tony’s brother-in-law, Extras alum Ashley Jensen is a welcome sight as the nurse, and the cast who make up Tony’s newspaper associates – Tony Way,
Philomena Cunk Diane Morgan and Mandeep Dhillon – are a great bunch – especially the beautiful Dhillon who plays the intelligent, passionate and caring “new girl” Sandy. Plus, there’s great support to be had from from Joe Wilkinson, Roisin Conaty, Paul Kaye, Penelope Wilton, Jo Hartley, Brian Earl and Tracy Ann Oberman.
Plus, the series is only six episodes long, which makes it a nice and breezy affair that you can whizz through in no time at all.