“Please don’t get me started
Looking backwards to move on,
Strong yet open-hearted,
Accept leaving when leavings come.
God didn’t see it coming,
Never said I love you, hope you knew.
Now my bags are packed
And my sails are tacked
And my course is marked by stars
When this cycle ends
Will it start again?
Will we recognise old friends?”
(Moving On, James)
Tony (Ricky Gervais) is still haunted by visions of his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman). He sees her in video from weddings and family gatherings of course but he sees her in his mind too. Walking past innocuous spots in his town he stumbles across her in memories that are almost too real. Almost every moment is bound to her and the life they had together. He isn’t looking backwards to move on though, he is looking backwards because he sees no reason to look forward…despite the advice he gives to others. Grief has grabbed him and he has given up struggling against it.
It is, almost literally, heart-breaking.
That grief isn’t bubbling under the surface, it is written large on his face, in his eyes and is given voice in every word he utters and most of the ones he doesn’t. He is frozen by it, a hostage to a love that has nowhere to go.
It is painful to watch.
Certain august journals have attempted to review “After Life” and they have decided that it isn’t as good as some other things…which reveals nothing about “After Life” and reveals everything about them. Like Tony they are trapped in a place that doesn’t exist, beholden to a past that cannot help them to move forward. But where Tony is grieving for a love that was real and pure they are grieving for the loss of something, and someone, who never existed outside of their own minds.
There are moments of gloriously crass and deliberately daft humour littered, scat-tered, throughout the show; achingly vulgar jokes from Brian (David Earl), cartoonish silliness from characters like Kath (Diane Morgan) and June (Jo Hartley) all provide moments of pure comedy. These sit opposite the almost wicked rants of Paul Kaye’s “Psychiatrist” and some of Tony’s own more vicious outbursts which also prompt wild laughter…revealing the truth that the true test of whether something is funny or not is whether or not you laugh, not whether or not The Guardian tell you it is.
But, once again, the real joy in “After Life” isn’t in the comedy. Gervais has moved on, while always a man looking for the biggest laugh he can get the truth is that with “After Life” he has decided to craft something much more sensitive, more careful, more tender, more kind and more honest than ever before. It is in the moments of raw emotion that the true purpose of the show is revealed.
The ongoing relationship/not relationship between Tony and Ashley Jensen’s “Nurse” is more carefully drawn and acted than Tim and Dawn from that other thing. The friendship between Tony and Roxy (Roisin Conaty) is more believable than any other in Gervais’ canon. And Tony himself is the closest Gervais has come to playing himself; a man who can see the beauty of the world, who rejects the need for anything supernatural, who is enraged by insincerity, who wants to speak his mind, who cares for those closest to him and a man who says the unsayable.
“After Life” isn’t really a comedy. It is a love story. A story about love and death, about grief and joy, about loneliness and belonging, about family and friendship, about wonder and misery. There are moments where anyone who has a heart will find it breaking. Watching Gervais sitting by the bedside of his dead father, no tears but a dreadful acceptance etched across his face will ring true to so many. The confession that he does’t feel suicidal “for the most part” any longer will bring a knot to the stomach of those of us who know what that means.
When season one aired I loudly proclaimed that it was the best thing Gervais had done to that point. Season two sits right alongside it. Again I watched in one sitting. Again I wept. Again I laughed. Again I felt. Again I got it. Again I wanted more. And so, once again, I am happy to say it’s the best thing he’s done…again.