After Life is exactly what we need right now. Yes, it’s about death and mourning, and the world is suffused in same, but we need an intimate embrace of grief through Art as a way to address a global grieving in Life. Any worries about Season 2’s being as good as Season 1 should be tabled.
Ricky Gervais wrote and directed the second season of After Life before the coronavirus pandemic. All the same characters are back, in force. Tony Johnson grieves the death from breast cancer of his beloved wife, Lisa. Their marriage, he avers, was magical, and he spends a lot of his time rewatching videos of their life together.
Tony is a reporter for a small-town weekly — his interviews with weird townies offer him a chance to be nice. He works with a staff of losers, from Kath (Diane Morgan) in advertising, to Lenny (Tony Way), the homely photographer, and Sandy (Mandeep Dhillon), the shy, newbie reporter.
Tony visits his dad (David Bradley) every day in the Autumn Leaves Care Home. There, in a Groundhog Day way, Tony relates to the nurse, played winsomely by Ashley Jensen of Agatha Raisin and also of Gervais’spikey Extras.
Townspeople include Joe, the rough mail carrier, and Roxy, the sex worker; the shrink, a slouching lesson in Freudian vulgarity. (After Life offers not only the C word, but also the S and B and T words). Blessedly, Tony meets Anne, a widow, at graveside as they mourn their spouses; she’s played by the renowned actress Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey). Anne’s the human version of Brandy, Tony’s life-saving German shepherd.
Season 1 was shocking, concentrating on Tony’s suicidal thoughts as he reverts to sarcastic barbarian bloke. Season 2 sees Tony rediscover the generous man whom Lisa loved. Yet he confesses to Anne that that Tony barely covers the nakedness of the deeply grief-stricken widower.
As Tony, Gervais does some of his finest acting, from acerbic to sobbing. As writer, Gervais exploits After Life as a pulpit for his unique stand on the world. For example, Tony/Gervais says, “Everything’s bad for you. We’re all dying. Being healthy is just dying more slowly.”
As the director, Gervais cannily interjects home videos of Lisa right where they matter as flashbacks. After Life manifests Gervais’ genius in all three positions, thereby making make the six episodes of Season 2 on Netflix a microcosm in this macrocosm of trauma.