Ah, The Guardian.
Where the popular and the joyous are dismissed as low brow and ugly by people who have spent a long time reading Herbert Marcuse and much less time simply…enjoying stuff.
The latest target for their, seemingly endless, ire is “After Life”.
Despite lavishing it with a 3 star review (that’s 60 out of a possible 100 that…maths) the praise is grudging. Delivered not so much through clenched teeth as through clenched fists pounding at the keyboard.
The Guardian don’t want to like Ricky Gervais.
He’s not really their sort of person.
The review starts with critic, Stuart Heritage, listing a series of insults delivered by Gervais’s character, Tony, to a range of innocents who make the mistake of simply being. A child in a school yard is called a “tubby little ginger cunt” and his colleague “fat boy”. According to Heritage; “It’s not funny”.
But that isn’t really for Stuart to decide is it?
I thought Tony delivering these brutal insults was really funny.
And painfully sad.
At the same time.
You maybe didn’t.
That’s comedy folks.
Different strokes for different folks.
Not at The Guardian though.
At The Guardian some things are funny and some things are not and, fortunately for all of us, they are here to let us know which is which because the prospect of us deciding for ourselves is just too much.
Then after some grudging praise, which seemed to be borne out of the fact that the series has proved to be incredibly popular and not from any heartfelt positive reaction to it, Heritage delivers this zinger;
“After Life contains the kernel of a really good series.”
Does it Stuart?
I’m sure the Netflix executives who commissioned it and Ricky Gervais who wrote it will be delighted to hear that you think so.
I know that the job of a critic at a big newspaper is to write things that will generate clicks and not to deliver any sort of assessment of the work but, come on, imagine having the balls to write something like that about something written by one of the most successful and important comedy writers and performers of the last twenty years.
When I wrote my own “review”of the series a day or two ago I suggested on Twitter that it may be the best thing Gervais has done, including “The Office”. At that point I genuinely didn’t know that Gervais had said exactly that already. I meant it and, I suspect, so too did Gervais. Not without good reason.
But for Heritage…
Gervais has called After Life the best thing he’s ever done. This is patently incorrect. The Office and, to a lesser degree, Extras made all the same points about vulnerability and human frailty without resorting to the sledgehammer sentimentality that comes to define this series. At times, the sincerity here is punishing. It loops out in greater and greater orbits until it crosses an event horizon and returns weaponised and mutated. It’s so overcooked in places that it can feel like a strangulation. Death by mawkishness.
My tweet on the series provoked a lot of replies and very many of them agreed with the idea that this was Gervais’s best work.
Is it his most important?
No, “The Office” changed the format of sitcom and spawned more versions of the show than you could mention.
Is it his funniest?
At times yes but it isn’t as laugh out loud funny as several moments in “Extras”.
But it is beautifully written, lovingly created, more sincere and more honest than anything else he has done and that, for me, makes it his best work.
“The sincerity here is punishing”
I didn’t feel punished by it.
I felt refreshed by it.
No attempt at being ironic…no postmodern take on grief, love, hope, death, life.
Plus, none of the redemptive moments in those shows came in the form of characters telling Gervais how great he is. It happens all the time here, though, over and over, with almost every single cast member getting at least one chance to call Gervais kind and funny and good. Worse, he isn’t actually very good at all. He’s a monster, directly responsible for ruining several lives in horrible, permanent ways. Gervais’s character does some genuinely irredeemable things, but they’re all brushed away by the platitudes of those around him.
“…telling Gervais how great he is.”
So the other people in the show are actors playing characters but when they interact with Tony they are, in fact, talking directly to Gervais and, at the same time, to us.
I mean really, what is the point being made here?
That Gervais ego is so enormous that he has written an entire series just so that he can have people tell him he is brilliant?
Where Heritage sees Tony as not being very good at all I see him very differently.
He loved his wife.
He loves his dog.
He loves his nephew, giving up time to babysit him and never missing the chance to say hello to him as he passes his school.
He confronts two sets of muggers with a reckless bravery.
He befriends Daphne when most people wouldn’t want to know someone in her profession.
He goes to work everyday.
He does do some terrible things but that makes him just like the rest of us…flawed, human, capable of good and bad within a single moment.
You might not like “After Life”…you don’t have to…but the judgement issued from on high from The Guardian towers is sneering and not particularly accurate.
Here is a radical suggestion…watch it and decide for yourself.