After Life, what’s next?

Ricky Gervais is patron of Humanists UK (Stephen Fry is another), which exists to promote rational thinking. There’s unlikely to be a more human or humane show on television this year, or any other for that matter, than Gervais’s latest creation, After Life.

Gervais plays Tony, a journalist on a small-town newspaper, whose life has collapsed following the relatively recent death of his wife, Lisa. Tony is left to question everything about life, including whether it’s even worth continuing with. Surrounded by friends and colleagues who in their own unassuming and understated ways do more to bring Tony back to life than anything his professional therapist is capable of doing.

In six 25- to 30-minute episodes we follow Tony’s gradual emergence from the dark – and it is very, very dark – into, well, if not the light, exactly, then at least into something a little less gloomy.

A highlight of the series is Tony’s interactions with his colleagues in the newspaper office – an office setting being one in which Gervais has excelled previously. As the series draws to an end, Tony offers some insight into the human condition.

“I believe life is precious because you can’t watch it again,” he says. “Once you realise that you’re not going to be around forever, I think that’s what makes life so magical.

“One day you’ll eat your last meal, smell your last flower, hug your friend for the very last time. You might not know it’s the very last time, so that’s why you should do everything you love with passion. Treasure the few years you’ve got because that’s all there is.”

And if that sounds a bit too sentimental for you then be assured that the path to Tony’s revelation is everything except sentimental. Observe as he enables an acquaintance to commit suicide; as he threatens a 10-year-old schoolboy with a hammer; and as he grapples with his father’s dementia during visits to the aged care facility. But also observe how, despite himself, Tony forges friendships and relationships in the most unlikely places.

Gervais manages to pack into six short episodes an entire philosophy for how to live a good life. And more jokes and toe-curlingly cringe-worthy moments than any series of any length has a right to. He has more to say about the joy of being human, and everything that entails, than anything else you’ll see for a long, long time. It’s difficult to see how he might ever top it.

Be prepared for the trademark Gervais offence (it’s rated “adult”, presumably for its language and themes), and be prepared to laugh out loud at wholly inappropriate moments. But more than anything, be prepared to be moved beyond reason.

Feature image via Netflix