You’ll enjoy “After Life” if you’re feeling cynical and/or depressed.
Otherwise it’s a huge buzzkill.
This half-hour, six-part dramedy from creator/director/writer Ricky Gervais — which follows his first Netflix series, “Derek” (2012-2014) — tracks Tony Johnson (Gervais), a middle-aged man who, unable to cope after losing his beloved wife Lisa to breast cancer, lashes out in grief at the world around him in a 24/7 suicidal obsession. “There’s no advantage to being nice, thoughtful, caring and having integrity,” he says. Tony lives in a picturesque, quaint English village and spends much of his time at home with his dog, Brandy, his only lifeline to his late wife. He relives his memories with Lisa by watching videos of her on his laptop (including her dying-days messages to him). “If I became an a- -hole and I do and say what the f- -k I want for as long as I want, and then when it all gets too much I can kill myself … It’s like a super power,” he says. That pretty much sums it up.
Tony works at the local weekly paper, The Tambury Gazette. He’s the features editor there but devotes scant attention to his job, because, as he says, what’s the point? He’s assigned to check out a man whose stained wallpaper resembles Sir Kenneth Branagh and a kid who can play two musical recorders with his nostrils, assignments he accepts reluctantly (he shows up sans notebook or tape recorder, so it’s anyone’s guess how he ever writes a story unless he’s got a photographic memory). His editor is his late wife’s brother — who’s trying to coax Tony out of his deep depression — and the paper’s small staff is the requisite collection of oddballs. They do, though, provide the series’ comic relief in the vein of Gervais’ breakthrough series “The Office;” you can almost see that show’s obnoxious protagonist, David Brent, in some of Tony’s inter-office banter and mannerisms.
There’s not a whole lot that happens in the series’ first four episodes, besides Tony’s self-described “whinging,” which include sessions with his preoccupied therapist (who tweets while Tony is talking) and his descent into recreational drug use with a local addict (Tim Plester, Black Walder from “Game of Thrones”). Gervais’ talented “Extras” co-star, Ashley Jensen, appears intermittently as Emma, a nurse caring for Tony’s dementia-stricken father. Her scenes with Gervais are thoughtful, well-written and well-acted, including one really funny instance where Emma shares with Tony his father’s ribald words of wisdom. I was literally laughing out loud, which I rarely ever do. Tony also finds an older friend (Penelope Wilton) at the cemetery who teaches him some valuable life lessons in an uplifting, often humorous way.
All in all, though, “After Life” plods along at a depressing pace without much of a spark — and lots of doom and gloom. Kudos to Gervais for trying something contextually different from his past TV work, but all the pieces don’t quite fit together in this puzzle.
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