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‘After Life’: Gervais Finds Beauty In The Mundane

Podcast Editor Matthew Seaman reviews Ricky Gervais’ “After Life”.

This winter, writer of “The Office”, “Extras” and “Derek”: Ricky Gervais, returned to our screens with the third and final season of his Netflix hit, “After Life”. The story of a widowed local journalist: Tony (Gervais), living in rural Tambury (filmed across Hemel Hempstead and Hampstead), is brought to a close in this concluding chapter. Its irreverence is somehow heartwarming, and whilst little actually happens in the plot, there is a significant arc for Tony’s character. The series begins with him hurling a potted cactus through a car window (with good reason), and ends with him reassuring a young cancer patient that he would visit him every single day until he is better. Beginning in an environment that infuriates him, Tony blossoms into a man who finds beauty in the world away from his late wife, appreciating that the time they had can live happily in the past.

Ricky Gervais – After Life

We see stand-out performances from Penelope Wilton, who plays a wise Anne, the single parental figure who remains in Tony’s life, and Kerry Godliman, who appears as his wife, Lisa, in flashback moments. Gervais’ on-screen chemistry with both Godliman and Wilton makes his pain and heartache all-the-more believable. Whilst he definitely ‘has it together’ more than he did in the previous series, and there are certainly less tears, it feels right that way. I was disappointed by the absence of Roisin Conaty’s character, Roxy, and later learned that Gervais had told Digital Spy: “We thought there wasn’t quite the story there… it’s a mutual decision, I didn’t write [her] out”. There are moments of hilarity to juxtapose the depth of the ‘bench scenes’, with the friendly feud between Tony and his boss, Matt (Tom Basden), making for some enjoyable screen-time. A must-see moment comes at the start of the fourth episode – I’ll let you see it for yourself! Basden’s role is certainly meatier this time around, and the same can be said for that of Tony Way (Lenny) and Diane Morgan (Cath), who become all-the-more likeable as the series progresses.

The music sets the show apart from others, with the likes of Todd Rundgren, Yusuf/Cat Stevens and Radiohead all featuring. As before, the series is underpinned by the ethereal and delicate sounds of ambient-rock band, Hammock, utilised in the same way as “Unloved” is in “Killing Eve”.

Once again, the star of the show is Brandy (Anti) the dog, who has been making some press appearances with Gervais in recent weeks. Tony (and subsequently Ricky)’s connection to his canine companion is palpable, and at times makes for even stronger on-screen communication than that of other characters. I would much prefer to watch a sequence of him reminiscing on his marriage, accompanied by Brandy, than see a padded-out banal moment with David Earl, whose character quite frankly depresses me (I’m sure that’s the intention).

It really is the perfect example of bitter-sweet television, embedded with sentimental truth. There are occasions where I sensed what was coming next, but predictability is okay. “After Life”, in some ways, is a ‘non-event’, but we are somehow drawn into the beauty of the everyday, mesmerised by the mundane. I won’t spoil the ending, but we hear Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, as the story closes in the most apt way possible.

There is no hope for a fourth season, and that’s just the way it should be, but there is certainly hope for Tony. “After Life” has been a pivotal piece of entertainment for me, since I first streamed the first season in March 2019, and I am grateful for the way that Ricky Gervais continues to disregard the system, and represents the misfits in society. After all, I think we can all tell Tony isn’t too far from himself (just maybe without the millions).

Closing Scene – After Life

All three seasons of After Life are available to stream now on Netflix.

Podcast Editor and Culture Writer for Roar News.

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