Tuesday 2 April 2019

Netflix Review: After Life

British comic Ricky Gervais returns with After Life, a new show exclusive to Netflix. As a fan of The Office and Extras, I wanted to see how it stacked up. Here are some thoughts.

After Life sees Gervais once again in the lead role, this time playing Tony, a widower still hurting after his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman) died of cancer. Working a humdrum job at the town newspaper and with next to no close friends to call on, Tony spirals into a deep depression – after all, what's the point of going on without Lisa?

With the thought of suicide lingering in his mind, Tony starts to lash out – at his colleagues, his dementia-ridden dad (David Bradley), Lisa's brother Matt (Tom Basden) and at anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path.

After Life will feel immediately familiar to fans and anyone who has followed Gervais' career post-The Office as I have. The show is awash with Gervais' trademark blend of gloom, incandescent poignancy and aggressive crudeness. From soaring emotional highs and tear-jerking crescendos to crushing sadness, skin-crawling awkwardness and outrageous gags, After Life niftily leaps around a wide emotional spectrum. In this regard, it feels very similar to The Office and Extras, two shows which also contained contrasts.

Tony as a character isn't too far removed from Gervais himself. I'd go as far as to say that After Life is Gervais' most autobiographical work to date; his character is barely a character at all, sharing all the traits Gervais publicly broadcasts to the world (his love of animals, his dismissal of religion, his love/hate relationship with social media). Even the ongoing discourse surrounding the limits of comedy, particularly stand-up, earns a mention.

There's nothing wrong with writing what you know, and it feels as though Gervais is using After Life as a vehicle for exploring many of his internal frustrations with the world. However, I'd argue that After Life works best when it is focusing more on its characters than these broader topics that feel less personal and more rote.

A lot of the material feels repeated from Gervais' other work; his recent stand-up Humanity, which centred around Twitter and trolls, gets a reprise here, as does his ongoing crusade against theism. The third episode is particularly guilty of this, with a scene where Gervais' character butts heads with a college over the existence of God. I've seen my fair share of Gervais' appearances on late night talk shows – pretty sure he used this same schtick on Colbert a couple of years ago?

I connected most with After Life when the plot pivots towards its characters – this isn't a conveyor belt of guest appearances akin to Extras or Life's Too Short, so there's no novelty here. After Life revels in the mundanity of the every day; of TV dinners, walking the dog and doing the washing up. All the actors are playing everyday people, from Ashley Jensen as a nurse at Tony's dads aged care home, Roisin Conaty popping up as a local sex worker, Joe Wilkinson playing a scruffy postman and Diane Morgan as the aforementioned colleague who cops some flack for being religious.

All told, I did enjoy After Life. Some overt instances of Gervais repeating himself feel a little indulgent or uninspired, but I did like the overarching themes, such as being good to one another, thinking of others over yourself and not letting grief get the better of you.

After Life is now streaming on Netflix Australia.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is such a beautiful and real idea for a show. I'm not a huge fan of Gervais but my Dad binged the entire show in one night and loved it!



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