Ricky Gervais’s sophomore season of his 2019 black comedy-drama After Life has landed. Delivering grief tinged bleakness and blunt comedic jabs, it’s more of what cemented its preceding season as Gervais’s best project in years. Still, those not sold on his cynical wit won’t find any alteration of affairs here.
Tony (Gervais) is neck-deep in the pain of his wife’s passing. Working as a journalist for a local independent newspaper, After Life chronicles his journey through grief and his ever-evolving relationships with his work colleagues and oddball friends. Season 2 sees viewers observing the cast as they fall in and out of love, enjoy success, or break down. A hotbed of shifting dynamics, After Life avoids buckling under its own weight by anchoring itself to Tony.
Its success lies in every exchange, even those not fundamental to the story, bearing payoff. Be it an emotional gut-punch concerning a side character’s situation, or the dry-humored novelty (but disheartening reality) of a 100-year-old care home resident, when referring to her fellow residents, saying “They’re not friends. They’re cunts. All of them. I hate every single one of them. And when I outlive one of them, they bring a new cunt in to take their place. Cunts!”
Just five minutes into episode one, it affirms that Gervais is pulling no punches with the script. To see an iconic creator unfiltered is a treat for fans.
Speaking of pulling no punches, the loathsomely gross therapist character delivers countless lines that make one reel with disgust. Counselling good-natured Matt through his dissolving marriage, he flaunts sexist toxicity, urging Matt to suppress his emotions with rudimentary macho bluster. Conversely, Matt strives to be honest with his feelings, posing the idea of talking to his wife and resolving their respective differences through authentic communication. This season-long back-and-forth is a commentary on toxic masculinity, and how harmful its endorsement can really be.
A point of criticism for After Life could be Tony’s endless emphasis on his grief and the loss of Lisa (his wife). His arc lingers in a state of suffering, with no end in sight, trapping Tony in a limbo of pain. Whilst this could result in meandering, it’s justified through its underlining of a core theme. Grief, despair, misery… These things can’t always be alleviated through a neat ‘n’ tidy arc. These emotions are eternal–addictive even. Tony’s vicious cycle is a reality for many that lingers for years–even decades, or an entire lifetime. And as said, even in the thick of Tony’s static arc, After Life avoids monotonous plodding, as every interaction delivers the goods, be it laughs or tears. No dialogue is wasted, and no scene is superfluous.
Still, for many, After Life’s quality will hinge on one factor: their stance on Gervais. He writes it, he directs it, and he stars in it. Truly, it flaunts Gervais’s vision and persona front and centre. For fans, it’s a belter, but those not already on board won’t be converted at the curtain call of these six episodes. Still, those seeking a darkly rewarding drama, packed with heart-rending occurrences, but juxtaposed with rapturously sweary gags, can’t go wrong with After Life season 2 (especially given its speedy runtime and binge-able convenience).