23 January 2022 458 Views

I like AFTERLIFE. I just don’t BELIEVE in it.

by James Murphy

See what I did there? Yep. Theological, philosophical pun. 

NETFLIX just released the third and final series of Ricky Gervais’ AFTERLIFE. Now: it is a recommended watch. Definitely. Flies past, a great late night binge, especially if simply surfing/streaming at random. A fast, purposeful, concise-ish piece. I counted at least three or four gigantic laughs that pounce upon you from nowhere.

And there ARE genuinely moving reflections on the human heart, soul and condition. I cried, genuinely so, at the hero’s heartbreak.

Bereavement is never truly ‘gone’ and can be awakened in a split second, when least expected. That need not, btw, be catalysed by losing a loved one to actual death.

If you love, are in love or just mildly infatuated, then you feel a deep sense of nauseating emptiness when that person you adore so much as leaves the room they just graced. 

And the loss of a loved one, even through fate, choice, chance or the passage of life and time, can indeed, catalyse, if not cause, and thereby exacerbate, underlying mental health challenges in all of us.

Love, in all its forms, for all the joy it brings, is also the hatch through which the ‘black dog’ both barks and bites. 

AFTERLIFE not only captures that dynamic, but personifies it, beautifully so. Well done, Ricky!

That said? I return to my tagline of ‘belief’. I am moved, impressed and entertained. But I am not quite ‘sold’ on any of this. Consider the following caveats, before, during and after any binge watch of the show.

  • I like Gervais. His animal rights activism. The lack of pretence. An ability to go places in comedy others dare not. And he gave us David Brent (right up there with Alan Partridge, Black-Adder, Basil Fawlty, Victor Meldrew and Father Ted in the comedy character pantheon). But there is also a logical conflict in his comedy and drama output within the last 15 years.

 

  • IE: If you can tell a rather nasty joke about say, Robert Downey Jr’s recovery, at the Golden Globes (unforgiveable, imho)? And you say ‘you can joke about anything’? Then why go so far to protest that you can indeed, master the mawkish /sentimental market?
  • And make no mistake, AFTERLIFE is mawkish. It goes beyond mere sentiment, into the kind of preachy, didactic, evangelical social engineering to which Gervais seems otherwise opposed in every way.

 

  • This is Ricky’s show. In EVERY way. As in it feels, on occasion, like a love letter to himself, by himself, for himself. He HAS to make everyone else look terrible, dysfunctional, incompetent and yet he must be the best at sport, gags, writing, life. STOP IT. STOP IT, NOW!
  • The post modern ‘bit awkward talking about gays etc’ routine died years ago. Now? It just comes across as a thinly veiled homophobia, made ‘ok’ because it is delivered via characters trying to avoid said?

 

  • There is some atrocious language. Fine if it is genuinely shocking as in previous series. Now? Just tired and rather crude and nasty, verging on creepy.
  • A LOT of filler, here. Many a montage of dog walking and working out etc. Fine. Except not fine. Because it exposes the lack of other material in the series and Gervais is too pedestrian an editor/director to make that ‘work’. Sorry!

 

So yes. DO WATCH AFTERLIFE! But also be alert to its many, many flaws. It wants to have a kind of Richard Curtis/Emma Freud warmth, but doesn’t. The piece REACHES for a kind of AS GOOD AS IT GETS / GROUNDHOG DAY reform the misanthrope trope. But Ricky is not Jack Nicholson or Bill Murray.

And writing wise, this is more a case of disappear up Gervais’ own derriere, than it is, an even more vicious Voltaire or modern Molière. Vanity brings it down.

A last minute, rushed, pasted, preachy race to an easy finish line montage spoils this into the very kind of lifestyle messaging Gervais built a career out of opposing.

But for all that? The show is indeed ‘good’: providing entertainment via food for thought and heart, and a few big laughs en route. So yes, it is worth the watch. 



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