Netflix has produced its fair share of disastrous shows — “Insatiable,” “13 Reasons Why,” “Fuller House”— to name a few. So, it’s understable why most viewers were fearful when the streaming service released previews of “After Life” earlier this month.
“After Life” tells a familiar story in an unfamiliar way with a lot of cussing, cheeky jokes and British accents. Yes, the storyline is simple, seeing as it revolves around an untimely death and a man turned bitter because of it; yet the show offers more than just a cheesy redemption.
What really makes “After Life” so fascinating is Ricky Gervais, the writer, director and star of the show, playing Tony. Anyone who is familiar with his works (“Extras”) knows that he has cultivated a public persona as a comedian who believes that “people are too scared to offend,” as he said during an interview as a part of the Comedy Cellar.
His material is often outrageous, tending to say anything he pleases, despite the consequences. Yet, he has hosted the Golden Globes four times and signed a lucrative Netflix deal, all while tweeting hilarious (albeit at times disputable) jokes to his 13.1 million fans.
So it’s understandable why the announcement of a new show about a suicidal man who “decides to live long enough to punish the world by saying and doing whatever the [heck] he likes,” as Gervais himself put it, might raise a few eyebrows. However, “After Life” takes a turn for the better and ends up telling a sweet, sentimental story about learning when and why to shut up.
When the six-episode show starts off, Tony (Gervais, “The Office”) is depressed and mourning his recently deceased wife, Lisa (Kerry Godliman, “Derek”). He watches videos Lisa made for him that contains detailed directions about how to function in the world without her and instructions on how to not wallow in misery. Of course, Tony does the exact opposite and spends his days aimlessly wandering through his cluttered home and job at the local newspaper publishing office, threatening to kill anyone who annoys him.
From the first episode, Tony’s terrible attitude reigns supreme. He insults a child, sneers at the townspeople who try to get their name in the paper, rolls his eyes at his optimistic co-workers and justifies it all with his so called “superpower”: telling the truth. Although, the concept of how all consuming grief can be is lost under Tony’s aggressive unpleasantness.
Midway, Tony meets a kind, old widower (Penelope Wilton, “Downton Abbey”) at the graveyard, who tells him the meaning of life, and the series’ intentions finally boil down to personal accountability and humanity’s responsibility to oneself.
Overall, the cinematography and soundtrack aren’t big deal breakers. While the slow pace and soft lights featured throughout the film compliment the melancholy theme, they aren’t outright spectacular.
Perhaps some gradual increase in color could have symbolized Tony’s change on his outlook of life, but the entire show is cast in a faded brownish-gold hue that adds to the dull mood and gives the story an unpleasant feel.
The music — or lack thereof — doesn’t do much to enhance the show either. The few songs that are included in the series are far from upbeat and tend to be nothing more than instrumental.
However, the downcast color schemes and minimal music are what make Tony’s character really stand out. Though it seems unlikely at first, Tony’s character development becomes more evident with each episode. Instead of making life miserable for those around him, Tony realizes that the difference between being honest and being cruel.
Although “After Life” is dark and at times unpleasant with its satirical jokes, it still manages to teach a lesson about basic kindness. Better to learn about it in this life than in the afterlife.