AFTERLIFE – NETFLIX
Afterlife, Ricky Gervais’s wildly successful foul-mouthed dark comedy that takes on the epic themes of love, loss and how we learn to start over has been seen in over 100 million households.
Its success could explain why Gervais broke his 2-series only rule. The big question, can Afterlife 3 live up to the previous two?
The opening scene are instantly familiar. Home footage of Lisa (Kerry Godliman) laughing and joking on a rowing boat as Tony films her. Only it isn’t Tony trying to escape to the past. It is his tentative love interest Emma (Ashley Jensen). As she slams the laptop shut you see loss on her face. The connection she has with Tony will never be realised.
The videos have always irked me; the sheer volume of them (did they film every single waking moment together). But really as they never show Lisa’s imperfections . She is of course noble, vibrant and loving and you understand why Tony cannot face going on without her. Viewers don’t however, see her angry or complaining about Tony’s endless pranks or barking at him to switch the IPAD off.
She’s a perfect ghost with whom the living Emma cannot hope to compare. Beautified in that way we all do to those we lose, particularly when its before their time and in somehow her true essence is lost.
It is great writing in a series which goes onto lack some punch. Roxy the sex worker who provided much of the pathos in previous series is missing, leaving her postman lover (Joe Wilkinson) somewhat redundant and his genuine if odd friendship with Tony non-existent. He is now just the postman.
Others, like the gross wannabe comedian Brian and his young friend James are strangely given a lot of screen time considering their story doesn’t really connect with Tony’s arc.
Afterlife 3 was filmed during lockdown which may explain the set-piece feel and bittiness and whilst the real world lurched into rapid change since Afterlife 2 aired in April 2020. The Tambury Gazette and its crew of oddballs remain the same. Tony still loves dogs and red wine and as we see him thrashing his hapless brother-in-law on the tennis court, the line between truth and fiction becomes ever blurrier. Tennis, wine and dogs being Ricky Gervais’s favourite things.
And he still hates the world, snarling obscenities at friend or foe alike. Yet, only Tony maintains a unique insight to see the suffering of others & offer comfort. His co-worker Kath (Diane Morgan) a case in point, in a scene that was like an advert for the Dog’s Trust. Her date with the awful teacher, who bullied both her and the minimum-wage waiter are wonderfully written and its a pity this series didn’t explore the pathos surrounding dating apps and the loss lonely people feel, each time a new ‘date’ withers on the vine rather than skating the surface. Ricky is one of the great observers of modern life and I feel this could have been made more of.
Despite its flaws, there is much that is brilliant and tender. I spent most of the final episode in proper big tears (the kind that leave you all red-faced and blotchy the next day). The bench scenes with the wonderful Anne (Penelope Wilton) remain a highlight, as she urges Tony to ‘live not exist’.
And there is its biggest strength. The depiction of grief, the universal condition. Some, seek distraction, or quickly start over with another. Others like Tony sink into an inert solitude.
The final scenes are open-ended, cleverly leaving it to the viewer to decide Tony’s fate. And the overrriding message from arch-cynic Ricky?
Be Kind. Or in Tony style. Don’t be a c”@t.
Afterlife is showing on Netflix