***Warnings for very bad language, drug use, suicide, and sexual references***
Ricky Gervais might well be an acquired taste for many people. He can often be very smug, and hard to like. His film roles are forgettable at best, though his one-man stand up concerts show moments of true brilliance. And when it comes to television, he is the master of observation. Whether in ‘The Office’, ‘Extras’, or the superb ‘Derek’, nobody does pathos mixed with comedy better.
It’s a shame that ‘After Life’ is restricted to Netflix subscribers. I hope that it gets a mainstream TV showing somewhere, one day. Or even a DVD release as a box set. Because it is just wonderful. One of the best things I have ever seen on TV, and a sheer gem of entertainment, tucked away on the streaming service.
Gervais is Tony Johnson, a journalist on a run-of-the-mill local newspaper in a quiet British coastal town. He has recently lost his adored wife to breast cancer, and is completely unable to come to terms with that loss, or to be able to manage the grief that consumes him. If it was not for having to care for the family dog, he might well commit suicide.
So he decides to live a life caring about nothing and nobody. He is rude, aggressive, sarcastic, often spiteful. He shows his colleagues at the newspaper no respect, and despises the stories that he has to trot out for local interest. And his elderly father is in a care home, suffering from Dementia, so he reluctantly visits the old man every day. From this unlikely mix, writer and creator Gervais has conjured up an overwhelmingly good drama. One that can make you laugh one moment, and then be fighting back tears the next. And all in a thirty-minute episode.
It reads like a documentary none of us want to watch. Suicidal thoughts, prostitution, grief and heartbreak, drug use, incredibly bad swearing, and a man facing the abyss of loneliness. But Gervias is a master of the absurd, and his observational skills are yet again put to great use in this series. The familiar cast (many have been in his other productions) is made up of some of the finest character actors in Britain today. The script is bitingly sharp, and location filming makes it all seem very real.
This about a lot of things. True love, trust, memories, and the inability to cope with a drastic change in circumstances. How you deal with colleagues and others you come across, when your own life is in complete upheaval. Very little affects an old cynic like me, but I am not ashamed to say that I watch this with tears rolling down my face. And they are rarely tears of laughter.
It is just perfect. Nothing I have seen in years comes close.
(Except for ‘Fleabag’.)
If you have access to Netflix, please try to watch it.