Int. a hospital room–presumably early morning. A woman adorning a floral, baby blue robe and matching headwrap fidgets before the camera. She is hesitating. Amidst the monotonous hum of monitors and the gentle, yet tenacious drum of an IV, her voice proclaims, “If you’re watching this, then I’m not around anymore.”
The words that hibernated within her chest graciously flew off her tongue. With the greatest of ease, she continues, “I couldn’t say any of this to your face. It’s too embarrassing…for you, not for me, obviously. You’re never really good at hearing how lovely you are.” She pauses, directing her eyes away from the camera as a faint smile sincerely paints across her countenance. “You are. You’re lovely.” For a moment, her pale eyes linger on the camera. Then, she chuckles, “But you’re absolutely f****** useless.”
Cut to a man lying restfully in bed. His brunette hair is disheveled. A laptop is propped by his knees. Intently, he listens to her posthumous monologue, lingering on her every word: “So, I thought I’d leave you a little guide to life without me.”
A Netflix Original series written and directed by Ricky Gervais, “After Life” is a compelling, dark-comedy that follows Tony Johnson–a small-town newspaper writer coping with loss in his journey to healing.
Embittered by the passing of his wife Lisa, Johnson essentially gives up on living. At first, he contemplates taking his own life but decides to lead the remainder of his days as a cantankerous curmudgeon because, in his own words, “there’s no advantage to being nice and thoughtful and caring and having integrity…it’s a disadvantage if anything.” In fact, Johnson views this dismal philosophy as a superpower since, should it ever fail,”[he’s] always got suicide to fall back on.”
As the series progresses on, the audience witnesses how, though Johnson knowingly seeks out and engages in unhealthy coping mechanisms, he is met with individuals who, in ways, connect to him, who deeply care for his well-being so much so that they implore him to see the error in his ways and change. These interactions bear great significance. Notably, a conversation with Anne, a woman, who like Johnson, regularly visits her significant other’s grave at the same cemetery. Johnson details, “But it didn’t go to plan. At first, I thought it was like a superpower. I can do anything. Who cares? What’s the worst that can happen?”
“But then, I realized you can’t…not care about things you actually care about. You can’t fool yourself.” He then directs to her, “It’s something you said, that it’s not all about me. And even though I’m in pain, it’s worth sticking around to maybe make my little corner of the world a slightly better place.” With a raising of her eyebrow, she confirms. “It is. Happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing, it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not.”
“There’s that lovely thing, ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees the shade of which they know they will never sit in.’”
A clever concoction of comedy and drama, and lest we forget to mention donning a rather lovely soundtrack, “After Life” illustrates the ability of Gervais as writer and performer.
“After Life” is truly an extension of Gervais. The series tackles abstract themes present throughout his stand-up such as religiosity, death, sincerity and humanity. Additionally, “After Life” takes place in an environment perhaps reminiscent of his youth–a tightly knit, working-class community that greatly shaped his introspective character. “After Life” echoes his previous works. Through rare glimpses, such as the comic scene in Episode Three, one observes how Gervais toys with “the theory of mind.”
Though the subject matter is a bit heavier and viewer discretion is advised, for those who are interested in the series, take note that on April 24, 2020, Netflix released the series’ highly anticipated second season. In the meantime, Season One is available on Netflix for your binging pleasure. It contains six episodes, all with an approximate half-an-hour run time.