In recent years, Ricky Gervais has became a slightly controversial figure. Sure, we all love and appreciate The Office – but his edgy (read: offensive) jokes, constant claims of PC gone mad and ongoing insistence that he does, in fact, not care what you think is enough to make viewers turn off and move on from their favourite 2000s comic. Time has passed, opinions have changed and there is no longer room for David Brent.
That leads us to Gervais’ latest works, where After Life is deemed one of the strongest in his filmography. The show follows Tony Johnson (Gervais) as he navigates life without his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman), who passed away from cancer.
Between his internal strife, quirky friends and ridiculous stories he has to write for his village paper, he is absolutely miserable. Gervais tackles the tricky thing of making a show about grief and depression, happy, hopeful and uplifting. And I’m not entirely convinced he’s pulled it off.
The first series was depressing. A trigger warning must be given for suicide mention, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re having one of those days.
But, surely, series two shouldn’t be as bad? Surely Tony will have some newfound hope, he’ll begin to find happiness and start to be a little less miserable, right?
Apparently not. Every scene feels like a repeat of the last, with tired excuses for a lack of character development and quality writing.
Every conversation is belittled and ignored because he’s grieving. Every relationship is dismissed because he’s grieving. Every plot strand is futile and destined for nowhere because he’s grieving.
No one is denying that grief is an all encompassing void, one that rarely cares for social lives or everyday mundanity, and this is definitely clear within After Life.
We empathise with Tony – I mean, we can’t not – and the profound feelings of loss will absolutely ring true to anyone whose lost a loved one. But nothing new is ever offered.
There’s no real hope, no proof that life goes on, let alone that life is even worth living. The show bypasses poignancy and goes straight to pitiful, and not in the right way.
Even his few attempts to move on and find peace, let alone happiness and meaning, are a flustering mess of rushed storylines and undeveloped characters.
Care nurse Emma (Ashley Jensen), who looks after Tony’s dad Ray, has been a secondary character since the first series and the new series sees a continuation of their “will-they-won’t-they” romance.
However, this series, their relationship loses its playfulness and sympathy, as Emma grows sick and tired of, you guessed it, Tony’s grieving.
Granted, her character has no real background or motivations, and she definitely wouldn’t pass the Mary Sue test, but she still, somehow, comes off as unlikeable – even more so than Tony.
“You know how I feel about you, but you aren’t ready…” She throws back in his face throughout the season, pettily choosing the son of another resident over Tony; as if this care home is her own personal speed dating opportunity.
Besides, they’ve had about four conversations, most of which equate to whatever insult Tony’s father spat at someone in the lounge – well, it’s hardly The Notebook, is it?
The series lacks any cause or action. It’s not about Tony finding comfort, changing his life for the better, or appreciating his loved ones.
Sometimes, it just looks like Ricky Gervais in a v-neck moaning about his job, his friends, fat people, sneezing, you name it.
Most of the time, however, it just seems like a way to give validity to his opinions – those he feels so targeted for on social media.
And that’s fine if they resonate with you, but if they don’t… neither will his character. Outside of his grief, Tony is a miserable git who treats everyone around him badly, but it’s okay because he’s upset.
That much is true for his character, but what does it say about Gervais himself?
Sure, there’s enough ‘effing and blinding’ to be funny, of course there redeeming characters (thanks Joe Wilkinson), and you do ultimately feel something. Hell, even I finished the series missing my dead spouse and I am devastatingly single.
After Life is heartbreaking and sad, albeit forced at times. And when that’s all you feel, when that’s all you’re really left with, it can really just fall flat.
Gervais says he’ll make another series “if the fans demand it”, which most probably will. But if you won’t, it’s okay. He doesn’t care what you think anyways.
You can watch both seasons of After Life on Netflix.
Featured image credit: Netflix