Ricky Gervais is a little like Marmite. But love him or hate him, there’s no denying that After Life is one of the most beautiful series out there.
Back in March 2019, I wasted season one in a three hour sitting – much like a long movie, like Titanic or The Wolf of Wall Street. I had absolutely no doubt that season two would be written will as much wit and intelligence.
The twelve-episode sitcom depicts Gervais as a features journalist working at local newspaper the Tambury Gazette, and dealing (albeit not very well) with the recent death of his soul-mate and wife, Lisa, to cancer.
His coping mechanism – or superpower, as he likes to call it – is brutal honesty, no matter how wretched. He figures that he can do and say as he likes, and if all else fails, he can always kill himself. There’s always the option of suicide.
Season one sees Tony battle his way through the first stages of grief, with his dog, Brandy, beside him. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions that ended wonderfully – so how to make season two different?
The second series sees a threat to The Tambury Gazette, shedding light on the struggling newspaper sales industry and the effect it has on local journalism. Tony barely seems to mind that his minimum-wage career is about to come to an end, but seeing latest recruit Sandy upset makes him determined to save the newspaper himself. There’s a much more sensitive side to Tony in season two.
The series packs in sorrow, laughter, tears and pure joy, but After Life primarily reminds you that life is for living, and that you aren’t just here for yourself but for others, too. It features some of Gervais’s classic one-liners, typified by a seven-second clip of Tony being called a “paedo”, which circulated on social media ahead of the release of the first instalment. Of course, the latest season is jam packed full of Gervais’ notorious belly-laughing humour – including a date between homeless postman (Joe Wilkinson), and sex worker Roxy (Roisin Conaty).
If you weren’t already convinced, here are five reasons why you should watch After Life, now streaming on Netflix.
If you are familiar with Ricky Gervais’s previous works such as Derek, The Office and Extras, there shouldn’t be an unfamiliar face in sight.
Kerry Godliman – who co-starred as Hannah in Derek – plays Tony’s late wife Lisa, who has left him a series of touching but emotionally haunting videos with which he tortures himself every day in grief. The cast also features David Earl as his Brian Gittins character – a role just as odd as he played in Derek when he’s sucking Special Brew out of the carpet; and Joe Wilkinson as nosey postman, ‘Pat’.
Tony’s father, who suffers with dementia, is played by David Bradley, known for roles in the likes of Hot Fuzz and the Harry Potter film series. Also featuring in the six-part comedy is In My Skin‘s Jo Hartley and Some Girls‘ Mandeep Dhillon, both seen in David Brent: Life On The Road; and Roisin Conaty as a sex worker with life lessons to teach.
The soundtrack for After Life has been carefully crafted to create a playlist that feels it was written for the show.
Ricky said in an interview with Radio X’s Gordon Smart: “I’ve never had a budget like it. Usually the budget for music is what’s left over. I planned it out and wrote montages to music.”
Elton John’s Rocket Man plays as Tony smokes heroin and is robbed by his peculiar choice of friend Julian, whilst Youth by Daughter tugs at your heartstrings as Tony gives Julian money to buy enough drugs to overdose.
Other artists involved in the track list include David Bowie, Mogwai, Lou Reed and Mott the Hoople.
Brandy the Dog
Grieving Tony finds himself feeling there’s nothing worth living for. When asked why he hadn’t killed himself, he replies: “The dog’s face. She was hungry.” He tells Brandy, the beautiful Alsatian, “If you could open tins, I’d be dead by now, but you can’t.”
Brandy is evidence that dog really is man’s best friend, as she thwarts his efforts to end his own life more than once in the series. She’s also a useful tool for the character to speak openly to, and unleash some of his inner anger at the “fat hairy nosey cocksucker” in the park – a scene to have you chuckling within the first five minutes of Episode 1.
The pooch was originally a gift to Lisa, which I think helps him feel closer to her. Dog really is man’s best friend.
The Rollercoaster of Emotions
You will laugh, cry (probably both at the same time), gasp and grin. Even music legend Liam Gallagher has described After Life as “beautiful” in comments on Twitter.
Tony’s melancholic outlook on life without Lisa has the viewer pleading for him to find happiness. In his season one finale epiphany, Tony finds himself ranting about how life is worth living, because time is precious. The life-affirming scene is sure to make you hug your loved ones a little tighter.
Ricky can have you crying with laughter with his script-writing one minute, such as with lines ‘you’re like a frog eating a creamy worm’, or of course, when Tony is called a peado. But he’ll have you sobbing into your Cornflakes the next. Drink-spitting moments swiftly followed by news that will pull you back to earth like a lead balloon – Gervais is brilliant at making you feel all of the emotions at once.
The issues portrayed
Some of the things that makes After Life brutally sob-worthy are the issues that it tackles head-on. Mental health and grief are at the forefront of the series, and tackles the taboo of moving on after losing a partner.
Tony also has to deal with his Dad’s dementia, adding another element to the story and showing how he attempts to continue with life as normal, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day.
The sitcom manages to tackle bullying (with a hammer), drug misuse, homelessness, marriage breakdowns and sex work, confronting stereotypes and delving deeper into why such personal choices are made. There’s also the absolutely infuriatingly sexist therapist – you’d like to imagine that no-one is really like that – but there is.
On top of this, there’s the element of local journalism – which, of course, as a local journalist, I love. It’s no secret that papers don’t sell like they used to – it’s all digital these days. It’s not to say that they aren’t massively valuable to the people who write them, read them, and feature in them. In season two, Tony and Lenny visit an elderly lady to write a story about her cat. Tony clicks that she simply wants to see her deceased husband and daughters’ names in the paper because she’s lonely, and massively feels for her. It’s a feeling I’ve had on more than one occasion about interviewees, and it truly hits home.
It’s a lot to process in just six hours’ worth of comedy, but it’s exquisitely written and the familiar cast helps you, as a viewer, feel you already know the characters – making the show all the more emotive.