Ricky Gervais is back with a second instalment of the tear-jerking After Life. The first series, having been Netflix’s second most watched show of 2019, was a big fan favourite, but was favoured less by critics. After Life is in no way Gervais’s best work to date, being nothing in comparison to the pathos in Derek and wittiness of The Office. Nevertheless, it serves as an insightful investigation into the relationship between humour and grief.
At the start of the second season, nothing appears to have significantly changed in small-town Tambury. However, Tony’s (Ricky Gervais) attitude has altered. Instead of endlessly snapping at his friends for the passing of his darling wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman), he is using his “superpower” of grief to help those around him. All the cast from the initial series are back, with Ashley Jensen returning as Tony’s romantic-ish interest, Emma, and Anti reprising her role as the beloved Brandy the dog.
Although Tony’s outlook on life seems to have changed in the eyes of his friends, Gervais reveals the relentless omnipresence of grief as Tony spends his evenings reminiscing with old videos of Lisa whilst still contemplating suicide. But the problems he sees his friends and co-workers tackle makes him persevere. Additionally, his innate sadness does not manifest itself in a relationship with nurse Emma despite the undeniable connection they share. This lack of predictable romanticisation is what makes the show so relatable to viewers. Gervais’s atheism is also refreshing in his portrayal of loss, considering the tendencies of other shows to seek the comfort of faith in difficult situations. With over half the British population identifying as atheist, the show successfully appeals to modern audiences.
Despite supposed avoidance of cliche storyline, there are discrepancies in production that favour aesthetics over authenticity. As Tambury looks less and less like a quaint English town and more like leafy North London, Tony’s beautiful big house too seems somewhat unrealistic imagining the salary of a humble local newspaper journalist. Fortunately these visual distractions do not hinder Gervais’s delicate handling of emotional pain.
To offset more sombre scenes, Daphne/Roxy (Roisin Conaty), a sex worker moonlighting as Tony’s cleaner, and the ever-so intrusive postman Pat (Joe Wilkinson) inject comedy into each episode alongside slapstick food fight scenes.
Whilst being unable to satisfy all orthodox Ricky Gervais fans, After Life still serves up his classic intonation and humour of breaking down the absurd hidden within quotidian monotony, allowing the audience to laugh at the often-tragic elements of life.
As a comedy series with a soft emotional core, the show encapsulates the quintessentially British habit of using humour as a coping mechanism. Tony’s change of heart offers fresh hope that if a grumpy old man can have a change of heart, anyone can. Fans, keep an eye out for season three!
Image: Matt Hobbs via Wikipedia