‘Happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not…’
Somewhere along the line Ricky Gervais lost me. The Office was a seminal show for me. Along with Red Dwarf and I’m Alan Partridge, Ricky Gervais’ inaugural creation was the first TV comedy that was truly mine. I can still quote obscure lines from The Office on demand and for a while Gervais could do no wrong. I adored Extras, I laughed along with An Idiot Abroad. I even loved his underrated coming of age tale Cemetery Junction. But then things started to go wrong. Life’s Too Short was patchy at best and Derek was even worse. The David Brent film just didn’t appeal to me and Gervais’ online persona was one of infuriating petulance combined with sneering superiority. A slew of negative reviews for After Life further convinced me not to bother with it but enough actual people recommended it for me to eventually give it a shot, and I’m glad I did…
Tony (Gervais) struggles to come to terms with the death of his wife and so goes on a rampage of drink, drugs and general bad behaviour, much to the chagrin of his family and co-workers.
The first episode of After Life did little to change my mind about Gervais. Tony, the central antagonist/protagonist, gives off the same smartest-guy-in-the-room vibe as all of Gervais’ post-Brent characters. There is the usual pontificating about the evils of religion and jokes from Gervais’ various stand ups are rehashed in sitcom form. Watching this episode, chuckling to myself, I felt snug and warm, safe in the knowledge that I had been right all along. He is finished.
After this inauspicious start though, After Life really starts to take off, and what starts as another tedious Gervais lecture, ends as a kind of Ebenezer Scrooge for the meme age. It’s A Wonderful Life but re-imagined in a sleepy, English village and with way more c-bombs.
It’s predictable in places and it is overly sentimental and melodramatic, but After Life clearly comes from a place of love and, crucially, it is funny. The eclectic supporting cast do a cracking job with everyone from Game of Thrones‘ Paul Kaye to Gervais regular Ashley Jensen to Philomena Cunk herself – Diana Morgan, all pull together to create a world that feels lived in and real. The more unfamiliar names perhaps shine brightest with Peggy Olsen substitute Mandeep Dhillon impressing as the character that holds the audiences hand through the early episodes and Tom Basden is quietly brilliant as Tony’s pleadingly desperate half brother Matt.
After Life is not the work of genius that some proclaim it to be but neither is it the disaster that critics are claiming. It is a solid, well written show that finds Gervais at the most focused he has been in years. For now at least, I’m back on board. I’m sure he’ll be delighted…