After Life follows Tony’s (Ricky Gervais) movements through the seven stages of grief. Season One was anger, and Season Two is depression – so, technically, he’s getting better.
Tony is a middle-aged man working at a free small-town newspaper. After losing his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman) to cancer, the grief overwhelms him and he decides the best way forward is to stop caring about anyone or anything. If it wasn’t for someone needing to feed his dog, Tony would already have taken his own life.
The first season ended on a hopeful note, while Season Two is a meditation on sadness and people’s heartwarming ability to support each other despite their own struggles. Each episode is framed by home videos of Lisa, a constant reminder of how much Tony has lost. He watches them at the beginning and end of every day, until life interrupts and he has to get himself up and get on with things.
Fair enough, this premise does sound a little downbeat. But what makes this show such a triumph is how it manages to be undeniably, hilariously funny. Written by Gervais, the ‘edgier’ side of his comedy can put off some (Hollywood A-listers at the Golden Globes, anyone?), but the more shocking jokes balance perfectly with the season’s melancholic themes. The show swings perfectly from Brian (David Earl), the Tambury Gazette’s creepy delivery guy, making a ‘joke’ about Michael Jackson and nine-year-old boys to a devastatingly heart-wrenching scene.
The ensemble performances are just as joyful as the first season and all the favourites are back. Roisin Conaty’s Roxy forms an unlikely bond with Joe Wilkinson’s Pat the Postman. Matt (Tom Basden), Tony’s brother-in-law, is sleeping on the floor of the paper’s office; Kath (Diane Morgan) still believes in ghosts; Sandy is trying to cope with covering a tragically awful am-dram group; while photographer Lenny (Tony Way) has shacked up with June (Jo Hartley) and her son James (Ethan Lawrence), otherwise known as the kid from Season one who could play two recorders with his nose.
The most charming relationships are the ones Tony has with Anne (Penelope Wilton), whose husband is buried next to Lisa, his elderly father (David Bradley) and his father’s nurse (Ashley Jensen), with whom he’s trying to figure out how to navigate romance when you’re still in love with someone else. The show becomes so engrossing that even Brandy the dog’s performance in the season finale is absolutely heartbreaking.
They say laughter is the best antidote to sadness, and in this way After Life’s second season is therapy. It has been released at a time when we are dealing with loss and grief more collectively and openly than ever before, and while this season will make you laugh and cry, it might also help you feel better.
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