What: After Life
Creator: Ricky Gervais
Now with all the different kinds of movies and shows being made and streamed on every platform, most creators forget that most of the material is meant to be watched at the leisure of your home, maybe while having dinner or polishing nails. This easygoing experience lent the phrase: “Netflix and chill,” not “Netflix and charge.” Thankfully, there’s still content being churned out that gives you that calming contentment, the kind which has you binge an entire series in one night without even realising it.
Ricky Gervais’s latest, After Life, is that kind of series. It is cut from the same cloth that he used to weave The Invention of Lying (also streaming on Netflix). There, everyone spoke the truth until Gervais’s character came up with the world’s first lie. Here, after the death of his wife Lisa (the pleasant Kerry Godliman) from breast cancer, an embittered Tony (Gervais) becomes obnoxiously blunt with people, saying harsh truths about everyone and everything around him.
After Lisa passed away, Tony immediately wanted to take his own life but the look on his dog’s face stopped him. And as he keeps contemplating every day about killing himself and even tries to drown himself in the sea, he’s got this strange new motto for life: “Everything’s a bonus… If I do and I say as I want and as long as I want and then when it all gets too much, I can always kill myself. It’s like a superpower.”
Our grumpy superhero’s day job isn’t quite flattering. Tony is the features editor of a local weekly newspaper The Tambury Gazette. The last big story he did was talking to some plumber who’s grown a potato that looks like Lionel Richie! And the next cover story for the paper is a toss up between the woman who drags her dustbin in a way it sounds like Chewbacca and the man whose damp wall stain looks like the face of Kenneth Branagh. Yes, After Life’s got that unmistakable wry British humour.
While it’s always funny, Gervais also manages to squeeze in some philosophy that his angry avatar spurts out to all the recurring characters – his brother-in-law Matt (Tom Basden), his photographer colleague Lenny (Tony Way), his therapist (Game of Thrones’s Paul Kaye), his drug peddler (Tim Plester) and the widow he meets at the graveyard (Dame Penelope Wilton). Sample this: “Humanity is a plague. We are a disgusting, narcissistic, selfish parasite, and the world would be a better place without us. It should be everyone’s moral duty to kill themselves now.” Word!
Of course, any work that keeps harping upon killing oneself, actually wants to celebrate life and list down the many reasons it’s worth living for. After Life uses a lovely narrative device of the dead wife’s instruction manual of a video message which keeps popping up every now and then on Tony’s laptop, injecting in him some fresh hope and spelling out his next task, whether it’s simply getting food for the dog or just taking a walk on the beach.
So, beyond all the melancholic and misanthropic musings and all the suicidal suggestions, After Life turns out to be quite an uplifting experience in its run time of six episodes. It finds a way to dig deep into the world of depression and desolation that comes with the loss of a loved one and then makes you realise that you are never the only character in the movie of your life. And the show must go on, even if it’s a no-show.