Ricky Gervais’ After Life is funny, sarcastic and well-written, and although it’s not his best work to date, it drives home essential messages about life.
It often surprises me how many people I have in my life who dislike Ricky Gervais, but there is no denying that he can write, direct and cast a thought-provoking story. For Netflix series After Life Season 1 he brings back trusted cast members he’s used before; Kerry Godliman (Derek) to play his deceased wife and Ashley Jensen (Extras) to play his father’s nurse. Gervais plays character Tony – a man that since his wife died from a terminal disease has become depressed, mean, sarcastic and suicidal. The character works at a local newspaper named The Cambury Gazette, where he berates his colleagues and barely shows any enthusiasm for his work.
After Life has all the bearings of a Gervais comedy, where the character decisively pushes the boundaries with the jokes, but underneath it all, there is a message at play. The central theme of the series is mental health, and a cycle a person may go through after losing a loved one. Each episode represents a different phase in Tony’s cycle as he takes on the world he wants to play no part in.
I believe some will wince at the topic of suicide that After Life casually slides into every episode. There are a couple of scenes in particular that hammer the message strongly, but in a way, the Netflix series highlights the fact that it is real, and it can torture the mind of any person. There is realism at play in After Life, where the jokes are scripted to entertain, but the crux of the story is that life is not a joke, it should be treasured. There’s a character, in particular, Matt (Tom Basden), who truly represents that notion that you should never give up on a person, especially if they are in a dark place.
There are some surprisingly dark moments in After Life that test your perception of Tony. It could be argued that these moments, in particular, are designed for shock value, but they do set you back, despite the series being a comedy. There are repetitive aspects of the Netflix series that are to be enjoyed; Tony regularly goes to visit his senile father who barely remembers him, and each episode presents a journalist assignment that often results in a well-played-out gag. It is likely you will laugh and tear up in the space of five minutes in After Life when you least expect it.
This is by no means Ricky Gervais’ best work, but like The Office, Derek and Extras, the message is clear, and as always, he inserts his “be kind” mantra into the story.
You can check out our recap of the first episode by clicking these words.