After Life

You just know that anything from the pen of Ricky Gervais is going to be rude and offensive and After Life, his latest comedy, is just that.

But it’s also very funny, sometimes tragic, and occasionally poignant.

Gervais is writer, director, producer and star of this 6 part series, as widower Tony, whose wife Lisa has recently died of cancer.

So depressed by her passing is Tony that he considered taking his own life. But the dog needed her dinner.

Full of cynicism and apathy, he drudges on, speaking his mind and rejecting social graces. Tony freely drops F-bombs and the C-word without apology.

“There’s no advantage to being nice,” he explains.

“If I become an arsehole,” he adds, “I can always kill myself. It’s like a superpower.”

Tony works as a features writer at a local newspaper run by his brother-in-law Matt (Tom Basden) where the hottest news stories are potatoes resembling Lionel Ritchie or the man who received the same birthday card 5 years in a row. Despite his mood, he is charged with mentoring new journalist Sandy (Mandeep Dhillon).

There are also visit to his shrink (Paul Kaye) who thinks little of divulging the details on his other “mental cases” and the Autumnal Leaves Care Home where his father (David Bradley) battling dementia is in respite care under a benevolent nurse (Ashley Jensen).

Throughout the series there are droll social observations about the minutiae of life, from restaurant menus and Twitter to dreams and grocery shopping.

At his ruthless worst, Tony is insulting to the local postman, a kid in a schoolyard, work colleagues and shop-owners.

Yet despite his “super-power” outlook, there are moments of vulnerability that betray his pessimism. As he watches home videos of his wife we see love and laughter, and he encounters others who have felt such pain before him.

Gervais is always watchable whether in stand-up mode or as a character (they are always cynical bastards), saying dialogue we would never contemplate publicly. Tom Basden, as the sad-sack editor, is a frequent target of insults, in much the same way as roles by Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington have facilitated.

Gervais regular, Ashley Jensen, has minor appearances in the first episodes. There are also 1970s pop tracks on the soundtrack from Lou Reed, Elton John, David Bowie and more.

The cleverness in Gervais’ work is that no matter how hard he tries to be a rude bastard and shun the world, life keeps rearing its head with a reason to hang around a bit longer.

After Life screens Friday March 8 on Netflix.

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