By: Bill Cushing – April, 2019
‘After Life’ is a new Netflix series written, directed, and starring Ricky Gervais. I’m not even sure you could classify ‘After Life’ as a comedy even though it is hilarious at times. It deals with topics such as depression, grief, mental illness, and suicide. It may be more of drama that has humor in it.
Gervais plays Tony. Tony is a newspaper writer who has lost his wife Lisa after a long battle with breast cancer, and now he’s left to deal with her loss and adjust to his life without her. He has lost interest in living and contemplates killing himself on a daily basis. Brandy, the dog that he got as a gift to his wife is now his only faithful companion, and the only thing that keeps him from going through with it. Tony tells the dog “If you could open a tin, I’d be dead now.”
Lisa has left behind inspirational video messages to help get Tony through each day. But it doesn’t seem to be helping too much. When he isn’t drinking or trying drugs, he works for a local newspaper and torments his co-workers, including his endlessly patient boss (and Lisa’s brother) Matt, and the newspaper’s goofy photographer Lenny, with relentless pessimism and insults.
He also is dealing with his ailing father, who is in a nursing home with dementia. Much like Gervais himself, Tony is an atheist and has trouble looking beyond his life for any signs of hope.
He meets Anne, another mourner at the cemetery, while visiting Lisa’s grave. Anne’s husband died and she comes to the cemetery daily. Anne and Tony bond over their losses and strike up a friendship. Anne helps Tony through much of his grief. She’s much more of a help than the therapist he sees. He gradually learns from her how wrong it is to have a self-centered perspective.
The show finds humor in the insults that Tony throws at everyone he seems to encounter. Other characters such as Roxy, the prostitute that Tony has befriended, or Pat the postman that Tony loves to relentlessly torment, give the show more laughs. But some of After Life’s funniest moments involve Tony’s conversations with the townsfolk he profiles for the newspaper, such as the couple who dresses their baby like Hitler for a laugh, or the woman who makes rice pudding out of her breast milk. The lighter moments in the show are important to offset the heavy subjects the series throws at us.
After doing something pretty awful, Tony comes to the realization that life isn’t so bad and there are things to live for. The repeated visits to his father make him begin to understand the importance of caring for others thanks to the endless patience of his father’s caregiver, Emma. Tony takes a special liking to Emma and thinks she could be more than a friend.
The balance between the serious subjects and funny moments is difficult to accomplish, but Gervais blends the two very well. With ‘After Life’ you get a series that manages to find the humor and soul in the horrible reality of depression and grief.
All 6 episodes of ‘After Life’ are available to stream on Netflix, and Gervais has said that he already has plans for a second season.
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