Is there an ‘After Life’ after the death of love?

By Aishvarya Varma (fetuinyou)

‘After Life’, in my view, is Ricky Gervais’ most outstanding work. A difficult accolade to achieve after having also created ‘The Office’, Gervais’ genius outshines itself in this dark comedy-drama series. The plot is set in the fictional English town of Tambury, following the life of Tony Johnson – a widowman – played by Gervais himself.  I specifically choose to say ‘widowman’, as this wonderful story does the same. 

“I don’t miss doing things with Lisa, I miss doing nothing with Lisa. Just sitting there knowing she was there.”

Season 1 follows Tony as a man grieving the recent loss of his wife to breast cancer. A cynical “Does anything matter?” approach to his days is seen, especially at his workplace – The Tambury Gazette. As the head of feature stories, his job involves visiting people who claim to have done or experienced something worthy of being published in the local gazette. His cynicism draws him to the very edge of unabashed questioning, often causing comedic chaos. He is a loyal son who visits his father in a nursing home, as he suffers from dementia, every single day.

By the end of the season, things change. Tony garners a sensitivity as people who care for him highlight that his nonchalance may be a little more damaging to him and others than he thinks. Earlier suicidal, now the views of his friends and colleagues change his perspective on living a more connected life.

“You’re the only man who’s ever cooked me a meal.”

Photo: After Life/Netflix

While whiskey and footage of his late wife – Lisa – continue to fill his nights, Season 2 embarks on new adventures for his days. His brother-in-law and boss – Matt (Tom Basden) – has problems that keep Tony entertainingly busy. The once cynical Tony now goes for a meditation class, attends a comedy show, and controls other impulses for long enough to make audiences laugh heartily for even trying. It slowly deciphers his active cynicism, exploring the depths of his humor and how he tackles the strange characters around him. This season, he’s given one last societal challenge to determine if he has any concern for the living – his colleagues, friends and family – anymore or if that is an emotion that died with Lisa.

“I am trying to work out if there’s a way I can still carry on annoying people after I die, but I haven’t cracked it yet so I’ll just have to make the most of that while I’m alive.”

Tony is now better adjusted at The Tambury Gazette. He enjoys mentoring Sandy (Mandeep Dhillon), who is now well-versed with his thinking. They often playfully tease others together, sharing a soothing comfort that finds its way to a definitely-sniggering audience. Unfortunately, the gazette is facing its own crisis. Does Tony have what it takes to keep a “paper no-one reads” alive? Tony’s interactions with his widow-friend Anne (Penelope Wilton) continue to nourish his ‘After Life’, making him question the kind of man he wants to be, or rather, is. 

“I shouldn’t wait around forever or I’ll miss the boat.”

His attempt at a love story with Emma (Ashley Jensen) remains wavering. He wasn’t quite ready for changes so close to home yet, but is slowly able to express more than he could in Season 1. This season observes all the boundaries that Tony tries to lay down, partly reconnecting with society again. From completely dismissing rules, to offering new rules for his comfortable inclusion, Tony vulnerably makes his way back into the community as best he can. The season unveils a beautiful ending that excites fans for what lessons are to come in the already-promised Season 3. 

Photo: After Life/Netflix

“She wants to see her husband and her daughter’s name in the paper. That cat thing is just an in. She’s lonely.”

While the premise of the show rests on his unequivocal love for Lisa, the script has unabashed conversations about happiness, community, and morality through humor. Will he ever be more than the widowman, widowed by his only love & joy? The self-deprecating narrative as a contrast to light-hearted jokes continues to serve as a gripping creative tool. The script makes you laugh, irks you, eases you – all the while making you cry. Exceptionally voiced, each character has a depth behind the loud frivolity, as does most of Gervais’ writing. With highs and lows of such a nature, the script tackles every emotion that triggers heaving in ordinary lives, perhaps simplifying them with a touch of Tony’s newly learned “zen”. 

“I didn’t understand it until I met Lisa but it is everything – being in love I mean. You just don’t need anything else. You realise that even more when they’re not around.”

If you loved After Life as much as I did, please share your thoughts and predictions for the next season in the comments below!

Check out our previous post on The Last of Us 2: What is the story?

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