After Life review: Ricky Gervais brings tears and joy in series 2

Ricky Gervais continues to explore grief and depression as recent widower Tony in the extremely moving second series of After Life on Netflix.

Published: 23 April 2020 - 5.56pm
Netflix

“I’ve never had a reaction like it for anything I’ve ever done,” said Ricky Gervais, when he was asked about the public response to series one of After Life.

It’s quite a claim for a man who brought the world The Office and Extras, two shows that sit proudly in the British sitcom Hall of Fame. But anyone who watched the first series of After Life will understand the outpouring of love Gervais has received for the show.

A slow-burn comedy about a local newspaper journalist struggling to cope with the death of his wife while dealing with the surreal world of small town local news stories, the series has a very different tone to everything Gervais has done before.

The Office, Extras and Derek always had their emotional moments – who could forget the Tim and Dawn kiss to Yazoo’s Only You? – but After Life takes that a whole step further. 

Ricky Gervais and Kerry Godliman share a loving moment in a flashback in After Life season two Netflix

When the oddballs and misfits of Tambury are out of the picture, the comic zooms in on the rawness and loneliness of life for widower Tony.

Hollywood might have opted for a cheery ending where a kiss or a single event could end Tony’s woes and a 10-part drama box set might have delved deeper into the despair and anguish of a character.  But the power of a half-hour comedy to unlock complex human emotions and Gervais’s uncanny knack for capturing a sense of everyday authenticity is why After Life has such a powerful sense of pathos.

If you were moved by series one, make sure you’ve got plenty of tissues ready, because Gervais has concocted an even more emotional ride. But while series two is more emotional and also funnier than the first, it’s also more surreal, yet also touchingly real.

Laughter and tears

Ricky Gervais pushes his dad, played by David Bradley, in After Life series 2 Netflix

The monotony of work, the feeling of putting on a show for the world, the guilt about feeling blue, the guilt about feeling happy, the pain of having to deal with snot-gurgling yoga teachers,

For a comedy, After Life isn’t afraid of exploring the darker sides of life.

Gervais is best known for playing the clown as David Brent and for taking a bite out of A-list film stars as host of the Golden Gloves, but what After Life reveals is that underneath his wind-up merchant act lies a big old softie.

And what Gervais clearly understands when he’s writing the show is that the greatest moments of joy and the biggest laughs are often borne of heartbreak and pain.

At a time when the world is in the midst of a bleak crisis, the show is a calming reminder that we all need to find the little moments of joy even in the darkest times. And that laughter will often come right after tears.

Unforgettable moments

The Am-Dram performance from Ethan Lawrence and Jo Hartley in After Life Netflix

It’s easy to get swept up in the emotions of After Life, but please let us stress that series two is also very funny.

Often incredibly silly, frequently outrageous and packed full of some of the finest foul-mouthed Gervais rants of all time, the world of Tambury has got even more surreal.

Local news stories involving a man’s mix-up with a ‘post box’, and a woman obsessed with plastic surgery had us creased up.

A bedroom scene involving Tony Way’s lovable photographer Lenny and some missing juggling balls left us barely able to breath.

And the Tambury Am-Dram annual show episode is a glorious farce with David Earl’s aspiring stand-up Brian and youngster Ethan Lawrence, who plays entertainment ‘triple threat’ James, stealing the show.

The cast gets bigger and better 

Paul Kaye in After Life series 2 Netflix

Fans will be relieved to see yet more of Tom Basden, Diane Morgan, Tony Way and Mandeep Dhillon in the Tambury Gazette offices in series two, while the legendary Penelope Wilton continues to regularly steal the show as Tony’s graveyard grieving partner and confidante.

But series two expands the Tambury universe further as we get to see more of Paul Kaye playing the world’s worst psychiatrist. Part Finchy from The Office, part Kaye unleashed and unfiltered, you’re in for a wild treat whenever he's on screen.

David Earl's hapless Brian performing a stand-up set in After Life Netflix

Colin Hault’s Ken – a man with the greatest ever Liberace anecdote and the leader of the local Am-Dram group – is the breakout star of the series.

And you won’t want to miss cameos from Steve Spiers (Upstart Crow), a deliciously sour Annette Crosbie (One Foot in the Grave) and Toby Foster (Phoenix Nights) in the most cringe-inducing and inappropriate local news stories yet.

Watch all episodes of After Life series 1 and 2 on Netflix now.