Ricky Gervais, as a stand-up performer, has long been the master of saying that which, in polite, maybe even impolite, society remains unsaid.
That has made him a controversial figure for some.
Others celebrate the opportunity he provides to connect with something darker and, arguably, more honest within ourselves.
“After Life” takes the idea of saying the unsayable and transfers it from the stage to the real world as his anti-hero Tony reacts to the death of his wife by transforming himself into a superhero…laying waste to those he deems worthy of it. That includes strangers in parks, postmen, co-workers, charity fundraisers and children.
At times things are said that are so outrageous and so shocking that the only way they could have been written is if they came from a place of absolute truth, in other words Tony, at his most vicious, is the shadow self of all of us…including Gervais.
It would have been easy to make this a one dimensional show about saying rude, vulgar, unpleasant and wicked things.
Certainly too easy for a writer as gifted as Ricky Gervais.
Instead the headline grabbing home truths that Tony spits out are a mere footnote to the real story of “After Life”.
This is a series about love.
It is the most tender and heartfelt work of Gervais’s career.
There were moments when simply looking at Tony reduced me to tears.
The pain of his loss etched into every line on his face.
It connected me with the people I have lost.
Reminded me of the pain.
Forced me to think about the people I might yet lose.
Just the look in his eyes.
This isn’t Gervais as the twit Brent or the hapless, but talented, Andy.
This isn’t Gervais as awards show host.
This, I think, is Gervais.
No need to hide behind a Derek.
Just the man himself exposing who he is.
Either that or he is an even better actor than we previously suspected.
The supporting cast are all fabulous too…Ashley Jensen, Diane Morgan, Mandeep Dhillon and Jo Hartley are all hilarious and affecting as the women who move in and around Tony’s life and who help him to connect with feelings about himself and his loss in ways that his psychiatrist (Paul Kaye) is incapable of. Roisin Conaty too is a revelation as the sex worker “Roxy” (real name Daphne) who helps clean Tony’s flat and, in some ways, his soul.
Religion, faith, belief and science all feature prominently in “After Life” and with the ability to present his anti-theist/atheist position free from the Twitter mob or an irate interviewer he delivers a passionate, sincere and warm case for science, reason and valuing the time we have because it is all we have.
“The Office” changed television comedy forever and since then Gervais has gone on to become the sort of global superstar that he dreamed of being when he was in Seona Dancing at the start of the eighties. “After Life” won’t have the same cultural impact as that but it is, for me, his best work since then and, possibly, his best work.