Last year, I heaped praise upon Ricky Gervais’ Netflix series “After Life,” about Tony, a man whose wife recently died of cancer:
It’s left him more than morose — he’s practically suicidal — so he decides that he’ll do and say whatever he wants every day, and when that gets old, he’ll end it. That doesn’t sound like the recipe for comedy, but Gervais has written his character into some situations that are ripe for poking fun (e.g. his overcoming-grief sessions with the worst therapist ever), and that’s when the show is at its best.
The second season of “After Life” (which debuted Friday) continues Gervais’ potent combination of humor and grief. He mixes genuinely funny situations involving his colleagues at the free newspaper he writes for (and the subjects of those stories) with morose moments, such as when he sits at home petting his dog while watching videos of his late wife Lisa, remembering why he loved her.
In one episode, when asked if he misses doing certain things with Lisa, Tony replies that what he misses is doing nothing with her — just sitting around and being in the same room was plenty. That’s the essence of a loving, successful marriage, the ability to survive the hours, days, and weeks when nothing special occurs, as long as you get through them together. Though Gervais wrote and shot the scene long before we all began long-term sheltering at home with our loved ones, it has extra resonance now.
My wife found the new episodes of “After Life” a little too sad, and gave up after the second, but I stuck with it through all six half-hours. While parts of it made me sad, there were enough moments of comedy to balance them — though the therapist’s sessions with a new patient go a little bit far for my taste — and I found myself relating again to Tony’s basic humanity.
I’ve been a fan of many things Gervais has done, from his movies “The Invention Of Lying” and “Ghost Town” to his under-appreciated TV series “Extras” to his standup specials “Out Of England” and “Humanity.” If your only exposure to him comes from the times he’s hosted the Golden Globes, you may be pleasantly surprised how, with “After Life,” Gervais has taken a giant step forward, proving himself a gifted actor with quite a range, abetted by his own writing and direction.
I look forward to a third season of “After Life,” and highly recommend the first two.