Steven Slatter reviews the new dark comedy Netflix series from Ricky Gervais.
After Life is the latest creation to be written and directed by Ricky Gervais. Regardless of how you might feel about his previous works (FYI, I was not a fan), After Life is a masterful, darkly comic little show, that is absolutely worth checking out. At just six thirty-minute episodes, it promotes swift viewing without the feeling of wasting your time. The episodes are so well structured it’s easy to get a feel for the tone and comedic style instantly.
After Life tells the story of Tony (Ricky Gervais), who recently lost his wife to cancer and has since become depressed and suicidal. Opting to not take his own life as there wouldn’t be anybody to care for his dog, he instead chooses to become a pain on society, tormenting and verbally abusing his co-workers at the local paper as well as everyone around him. (It’s very reminiscent of his film The Invention of Lying). Tony finds himself not having to conform to social pleasantries and always has suicide to fall back on if things turn sour is his coping mechanism, something he describes as his superpower.
While the series predominantly focuses on depression and the Tony character rediscovering his past happy, loveable self, it also acts as a social commentary of the PC culture in which we currently live (something Gervais has railed against historically); We often pander to people’s feelings through fear of being un-liked or offending someone. After Life shines a light on mental health, and how little some people understand the specifics of how individuals are affected differently, often struggling with sympathy and empathy.
The writing is phenomenal; not only does the story take you on a heart-warming and emotional journey, but every character you meet along the way has a distinguishable feature, something that makes them unique, so nobody blends into the background. Another point of note is how the tone changes in the blink of an eye from having you in fits of laughter to making you want to cry. The show executes this to an art, making sure the tone isn’t disjointing or irritating at any point.
Character chemistry all around was also fantastic; while everyone gelled perfectly, three particularly stood out. First is Emma (Ashley Jensen), a care worker looking after Tony’s father who refuses to take Tony’s nonsense. She compares him to a troll on Twitter, simply wanting people to feel sad because he is. Emma is his perfect opposite, offering tough love and a form of therapy not even his therapist could provide. Secondly, an old widow portrayed by Penelope Wilson who Tony befriends and seeks advice from, embodies the continuation of life once a loved one passes away. Lastly was the local prostitute (or ‘sex worker’ as she prefers to be referred as), portrayed by Roisin Conatry who showed Tony that even those with a less than respectable job can be human and provide friendship.
The majority of the hilarity comes when Tony and photographer Lenny interview locals who want to be in the paper. While these scenes were more like hysterical skits, they offer lighter, toned down and casual humour, which is essential when each episode turns to some dark places; in one instance thought provoking, if a somewhat potentially character damaging situation.
If a negative must be made, it’s that it is somewhat formulaic, each episode following a distinctive pattern; the length stops them from becoming mundane and predictable. Furthermore, though snippets of happy Tony are shown through home video form, we never truly get a feel for how he previously treated his work colleagues, so there is no comparison to be made with how poorly he treats them during his depressive state.
After life is simple, satisfying and to the point; it doesn’t mess around with complex characters and hidden mystery. This series acts as its own form of therapy and education, something others can use to help cope with their inner pain or educate others about how difficult depression can be. I couldn’t recommend this show more highly.