Ricky Gervais has never been one to shy away from tough topics. Whether he’s making shock-value jokes in standup or subjecting his sitcom characters to constant ridicule, Gervais is constantly finding new ways to test the boundaries of comedy. His new series After Life is no exception.
If you aren’t aware of what After Life is… well I don’t blame you because Netflix has been pumping out new originals left and right, and frankly it’s getting hard to keep track. This show from comedy veteran Gervais was released worldwide last month, and while I first at didn’t see anything all that novel about it, I began to catch myself thinking about it quite a lot. I realized that it’s the kind of story that demands to be sat with and thought about.
Very few programs portray grief in the same vein as After Life, which follows a man, Tony, who lost his wife to cancer. Though straightforward as this may seem, it actually gets much more complicated. After Life is about a man suffering from lasting, longterm grief, who is incredibly depressed, abusing substances, and constantly on the verge of suicide… but the show’s a comedy. Only Gervais could pull something like that off.
There’s a couple tricks that make it work — for one, the show is overly stylized to make Tony’s world as visually clean and picturesque as possible. It’s the kind of place that one couldn’t possibly be upset in, but of course Tony is. Amidst the pleasantry of the visuals, the cast of characters in the town are pitiful beyond reason. Seeing how useless and miserable the people around him are, Tony declares that he’s going to do and say whatever he wants because nothing matters, which results in his bursts of aggression, attacking innocent people who are just going about their lives.
But that is what grief does — it completely changes a person’s perspective on life. It causes people to question what every waking moment means to them. Tony is someone who says what everyone has been thinking, simply because he finds no reason to hold it back.
The show is not melancholy though. It has its devastating moments, yes, but it remains hopeful. Part of the job of an audience watching a character who believes he has nothing to live for is to find one for him, and Gervais takes viewers through the journey with an astounding grace.
After Life is different. It makes you think about life and death and the thin veil between them in a new way. It’s not just heartbreaking, and it’s not just funny. It’s heartbreakingly funny.
Tell Us: Have you seen After Life? Tell us your thoughts!