Final Thoughts: “After Life” (Series Two)

In the second outing for Ricky Gervais’ tragi-comic series, Tony (Gervais) is apparently doing better in life: attempting to adopt a new “zen attitude” to life and to treat his friends and co-workers better, only using his “superpower” of saying exactly what he wants to those who deserve it, but the loss of his beloved wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman) still weighs heavy on him and as he suffers through more strange interviewees, his father’s (David Bradley) continuing dementia, offputting yoga instructors, a less than talented theatre company, and the potential sale of the newspaper where he works, can he achieve true happiness and a new relationship with caring nurse Emma (Ashley Jensen)?

The first series of Gervais’ Netflix series was a real breath of fresh air for me: placing it highly on my “best TV of 2019” list, I thought that it was a breezy and entertaining series that managed to be both outrageously hilarious and also heartfelt and tender, making use of Gervais’ own brand of edgy comedy while also having a heart and telling a story about grief, loss and coping with suicidal thoughts. So with a second series on offer in 2020, I decided to watch all of the episodes in one go (as I more or less did with series one) and to see where the second series would take us.

Unfortunately, though I really dug the first series, this second series isn’t as good as the first and as it treads familiar ground, it also suffers because of its overly serious tone and it doesn’t have that magic balance of comedy and drama that the first series had.

One of the things that I noticed about series two was that over its six episode run, not a lot actually happens and what we do get is much more of the same from the previous series; time and again, we see Tony interviewing the clueless interviewees, visiting his dad in the nursing home, talking to Penelope Wilton on the park bench (does she LIVE there?), and constantly watching the videos of his late wife on his laptop and although it was all meant with the best of intentions, after a while it becomes apparent that the series is far too “samey” and disappointingly, the new “situations” that we do get – with the owner of the newspaper wanting to sell perhaps being the most important development – aren’t all that interesting and many are resolved in no time at all. To its credit though, it does attempt to shift focus onto Tony’s brother-in-law Matt, looking at how he’s suffering after his breakup, and it’s somewhat good to see Gervais attempting to give other characters their moment in the sun and to strengthen his supporting characters, although Matt’s storyline is one of those that ultimately gets resolved far too easily.

Another reason as to why series two isn’t as good as its predecessor is because there’s a tonal imbalance and Gervais doesn’t achieve the winning blend of comedy and drama like he did before; although parts are quite funny, the comedy isn’t as effective and in the drama stakes, the series is unfortunately a bit more manipulative because it tries really hard to tug on the heartstrings and to appear heartfelt and emotional but those emotional moments don’t hit as hard as they once did and the many “moving” scenes come across as too forced and not genuine, the sad music and lingering camera shots being used too much, telling us to feel sad in far too obvious a manner.

Looking at the cast, everyone does a good job but in the long run, there are perhaps too many supporting characters, most given some story of their own, so no one really gets the chance to make a big enough impact. In the leading role, Ricky Gervais continues to dish out the edgy comedy in his tried and tested manner, managing to provoke a few laughs as he continues to use his “superpower” and he also comes across well in the more emotional scenes, acting as though he truly understands the sadness of the character, and in supporting roles, Kerry Godliman, Ashley Jensen, David Bradley, Tom Basden, Tony Way, Diane Morgan, Mandeep Dhillon, Penelope Wilton, Joe Wilkinson and Roisin Conaty all prove to be a nice bunch and do what they can to support the show, but in this series, Paul Kaye drags the series down in his role of the psychiatrist because he is particularly unpleasant, crude and nasty and his scenes really give events a sour taste.

Ricky Gervais’ intentions may be pure and the show does give us some nice and/or funny moments, but the second series of After Life doesn’t have the same winning blend of comedy and drama as the first did, and much of the series treads all too familiar ground, much of it being uneventful, uninteresting, and often emotionally manipulative.

★ ★ ★

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