For some time now, Ricky Gervais has committed himself to television. Audiences around the world have adored him in Derek, loved him in Extras and cringed at him in The Office. The problem here is my work rarely ever overlaps into television, so I’m stuck watching coy, comfortable comedies like The Invention of Lying or David Brent: Life on the Road. It feels like I’m stuck with the dregs, and as enjoyable as they are, nothing compares to the brilliance of Gervais’ television out-put. Specifically, After Life.
So as a special occasion, and also because I binge watched the entire first season for a reason that wasn’t entirely monetarily or career focused, it’d be nice to dip into the world of television, as I often ignore it for little to no reason.
Gervais stars, writes and directs his way through yet another brilliant series of television, focusing greatly on grief, life and the impact loss can have on everyone around us. Often it’s easy to miss the mark with how grief can affect someone. I’m specifically thinking of comedies like Back and Scrubs, that don’t always hit the mark or deliver their message in full. After Life doesn’t have that problem, and it’s the primary reason it’s such a strong piece of television.
Tony’s contempt for society is a genuine one, vigorously slamming down any sight of happiness. The occasional glint makes its way through, especially towards the latter half of the series. As a character, Tony may not be all that well remembered even just after watching the show, but that’s the point. He’s just an ordinary bloke. He hasn’t got the cringe-inducing charm of David Brent, nor does he hold the key to life like Mark Bellison did in The Invention of Lying. Tony is a caricature for anyone and everyone, just a guy trying to move on and live with grief.
It’s a great performance by Gervais, who as ever really outdoes himself, proving once more he is still very much leading man material. He hits a lot of comedic notes as well as melodramatic ones.
Without a doubt the strongest supporting performance After Life provides is that of Penelope Wilton’s. There’s a genuinely touching piece in the later moments of Episode 5 that really bring Tony back to reality, so perfectly balanced between comedic and heart-wrenching. Wilton has always been a strong performer, and it’s nice to see her and Gervais spread their dramatic capabilities.
Episode 5 definitely has some of the strongest emotional punches of all. What is certainly noticeable about After Life is its break away from conventional soap opera style television. Nor is it episodic, stories are contained to each episode, but there’s also an overlying plot throughout. At times it feels like more of an observation into someone’s life than an actual television broadcast.
My only criticism really is that the show takes a standardised format. Repetition of the locations and characters is frequent and often in the same order as the previous episode. A run-in with the post-man (Joe Wilkinson), a quick trip to visit Tony’s Dad (David Bradley), a visit to the therapist and from there the episode makes its grandiose and often verbose, yet oddly sombre meaningful message. If anything it captures the mundanity of life, doing the same thing over and over expecting happiness.
The progression of Tony throughout the show is strong. We see him clamber out of a pit of depression somewhat, and the elegance of the performance lies in the extreme difficulty of blending humour and drama. Much of this comes from often upsetting settings that are made lighter with a touch of comedy. It’s a brilliant mix, and the effort that goes into this balance is incredible to experience.
A real hard hitting show and a tearjerker if you open yourself up to it. After Life has some truly hilarious moments to it, but more importantly has a strong core message. A very well intended piece of television that will be a sure hit with those of us wanting either a light comedy or a solid, meaningful experience.
I really hope I don’t have to report the same features that Tony does throughout. A show should always make you think, but After Life has made me doubt my entire career. Always good to have a mid-life crisis before the middle of your life I suppose.