After Life Packs a Punch, Feels Empty

After Life
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Ricky Gervais and Ted Sarandos attend a special screening and Q&A for new Netflix series "After Life" at BAFTA on February 27, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Grief and depression have long been the basis of drama on-screen, whether it is losing a spouse or enduring some tragedy, it usually leads to some character change or development. However, these premises are sometimes wrought with shallow sentiments. In most cases, we are going to see a man lose his wife and question what his value is because she was his everything. The death of a woman to further a man’s understanding of life. It’s an all too common TV trope, that really is past its prime. The flashbacks, the memories, the dark depression, it’s all very done before. This is the premise for Ricky Gervais’s Netflix series, After Life. Its second season recently released to the platform and delivers the heartbreak, but lacks any true substance for the characters.

Netflix Drama After Life Breaks Your Heart, Lacks Substance

Gervais is a controversial figure in the culture. He disguises himself as an everyman to chastise the rich and famous for their political stances while he quietly rakes in millions each year. Granted, his point is that the true working-class people in the world don’t want to hear virtue from the mega-rich and famous, but his blast-offs on Twitter to politicians and the common user make the sentiment hard to swallow. This is all notwithstanding a few problematic jokes and opinions of his in recent years concerning Transgender people and members of the LGBTQ+ community. All of this is to say that perhaps the deep sentiment viewers are looking for in a show about loss and suicidal ideation could be written better by someone else. 

Truly though, there aren’t many negative marks in how the character Gervais portrays, Tony, this great loss and continues on with his life. The first season digs deep into how bitter and angry Tony is and how he should find himself while staying true to his nature. He’s cranky and his blunt persona is what makes him charming and his wife’s words are echoed throughout the show by means of video recordings she made prior to her death. This continues into the recent second season by Tony opening himself up to new experiences but ultimately realizing that he feels alone and worthless without his perfect wife.

Tony still interacts with his coworkers and townsfolk in the same sarcastic manner but shows a bit more sympathy in those moments where he would typically cut them out. His willingness to see annoyances as things that others are also struggling with makes him realize that everyone is battling some sort of sadness. They may be counting the days until death or just closed off to the possibility of ever finding love. Tony begins to work to help others while battling this overwhelming feeling that he doesn’t deserve to be happy and maybe he can’t ever gain that again without his wife. 

Season Two Tries to Justify Why it Exists

It’s easy to say the first season of any show is better than the rest. The entire premise and introduction of primary characters typically occur in the first season and furthering that story is a difficult battle. Yet, most series have the ideas for more seasons once it’s greenlit. After Life doesn’t seem to have a logical follow-through for Tony. His battle with depression and suicide are still prevalent, but his story doesn’t seem to progress. The second season is easily more emotional and attempts to grapple with much darker material while being less funny than the first season. Okay. Viewers are smart and can understand where humor can take away from real-life feelings, but the first season had such sarcastic energy with Gervais and the levity felt made the story more relatable. 

Reducing the humor in favor of venturing into darker thoughts is a decision, but one that had no build-up. Six episodes and all that was established is that the characters all are battling some form of depression and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for them. Continue living to experience the joys of life. But this sentiment was already introduced in the first season for a few characters, so the focus is now three more hours to plainly state that while adding more layers to a somewhat layered plotline.

Season Three and It’s Future

The series has already been greenlit for a third season and it will be interesting to see how the story will go for Tony as he seems to be heading into a relationship with the nurse who worked in the home where his dad lived. Their relationship could never take the next step because of his grief and inability to open up. The final shot of the season was of her arriving at his house as he contemplated taking his life again. Possibly the early stages of their relationship can lay the foundation for his development and growth as a character. There is also the distinct possibility that the conflict will be his reluctance to let go of his deceased wife and force his new relationship to end prematurely. 

It will also be interesting to see how serious or funny the direction will be. The second season is notably less funny and more serious, so will this trend continue or will the creators “right the ship.” Check out both seasons of After Life on Netflix.

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