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After Life: a Masterful Illustration of Grief and Humanity (Review)

After Life: a Masterful Illustration of Grief and Humanity (Review)

Isobel Nutbrown

After Life is the antidote we didn’t know we needed: your next Netflix binge might just restore your faith in humanity.



After Life takes cinematic presentation of grief and sets it on fire. Brave in its brutality and devastating in its tenderness, the Netflix series is an expertly crafted illustration of love and loss.

Season one of Ricky Gervais’ hit series was released on the 3rd of March 2019. After enjoying rave reviews, a second season was commissioned and has been available to stream on Netflix since the 24th of April this year. The narrative follows Tony (Ricky Gervais), his struggle with depression and contemplation of suicide following the death of his wife Lisa (Kerry Goldiman). All seems pretty bleak from the outset. However, with the help of friends, well-timed dark humour and sheer endurance, both Tony and the viewer come to understand that, after loss, there is still a life worth living.

After Life is the first illustration of Gervais’ screenwriting genius. After the life of a loved one has ended, we expect to see pain and heartbreak: though both themes are very much present within the show, they are paralleled with at least equal measure of kindness and love. Embedded within the title is the underlying message of the series: yes, there is indeed loss after life, but, if you look hard enough, there is also hope.

Loud and Clear reviews After Life 2 Ricky Gervais Penelope Wilton
Ricky Gervais and Penelope Wilton in After Life Season 2 (Ray Burmiston/NETFLIX)

Now, this might all seem very profound and philosophical, and, if you know anything about Ricky Gervais, tenderness and sensitivity might not be what initially springs to mind. Gervais is undoubtedly a controversial character (remember the Golden Globes speech?) and his infamously dark sense of humour and brutal honesty may not seem best suited to a tasteful exploration of the human condition. However, as is evident in the writing, production and dramatic delivery, it is these aspects of Gervais’ character that makes After Life both deeply moving and entertaining. It does not shy away from the brutal realities of grief, allowing it the full consideration it deserves, whilst also managing not to dwell too long. Ample humour makes viewing an ultimately uplifting experience, despite the difficult subject matter.

After Life is primarily a discussion of life after death, but it also reveals the nature of human relationships more generally. Each of the central characters within the show subtly presents an archetypal figure that is instrumental to the human experience. We have Lenny (Tony Way) the best friend, fiercely loyal and endlessly forgiving; he endures Tony’s endless teasing and insults as he recognises Tony’s need for distraction. We have Anne (Penelope Wilton) who in some ways acts as a ‘God-like’ figure. Even though Tony, by his own admission, doesn’t ‘go in for the whole God thing’, Anne functions as a guide and confidant that we see almost exclusively against the backdrop of the churchyard. Tony takes on the role of a guide himself to a point, acting as Sandy (Mandeep Dhillon)’s mentor at work, giving him a sense of purpose and value. Then there’s Emma (Ashley Jensen), Tony’s elderly father’s nurse. Emma is a source of both tough love and gentleness who later becomes Tony’s romantic interest, raising further themes of guilt and the necessity of moving on. Not forgetting Brandy (Anti), the dependent, the purpose, the best-trained dog on TV and the character that ultimately reminds us of what we all already knew, that dogs are far better than people.

Loud and Clear reviews After Life 2 Anti Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais and Anti in After Life Season 2 (Natalie Seery/NETFLIX)

It wouldn’t be right to review this series without mentioning the score. The soundtrack for After Life’s Seasons 1&2 is available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music and other platforms. It features old favourites such as Elton John‘s ‘Rocket Man’ and more contemporary tracks such as ‘Youth’ by Daughter. The blend of old and new brings both a sense of nostalgia and progress (a personal favourite being Billy Joel’s ‘And so it goes’) that embody the show’s reflections on memory and moving on. A further clear indication of Gervais’ expert production.

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The episodes are short, averaging around 25 minutes, as are the seasons, both having just six episodes. Enamoured viewers are left wanting more but perhaps this is the point. Life and love are brief, brutal and often inconvenient and After Life instils in its viewers the importance of appreciation for what we have. In this sense, the release date of After Life Season 2 couldn’t have been more perfect. Airing at a time when societies across the world find themselves locked down amid a global pandemic, After Life provides a welcome reminder that, after suffering, there will be prosperity, and that a world filled with possibilities and kindness still exists outside our four walls. Troubled viewers are reassured by After Life‘s ultimately uplifting illustration of human compassion, and the knowledge that tough times don’t last forever. In the masterful use of a Robert Frost quote, audiences are left with a poignant message, underpinning the moral of the show; ‘In a few words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on‘.


The Vast of Night: Official Trailer (Amazon Studios)

After Life is now available to stream on Netflix.


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