In “After Life”, Ricky Gervais deals with difficult issues such as pain and loss without losing sight of politically incorrect humour

To date, Ricky Gervais’s career has been based on a feat that, in these modern times, could even be referred to as epic; dealing with extremely dramatic issues often using irreverent and politically incorrect humour. Some might say it’s the other way around, that comedy is the subtext and far more serious than it might seem. But that wouldn’t be entirely accurate, because after all he never lets the joke overshadow the reflection. This is true for the bulk of his work to date, including “The Office“, “Extras” and “Derek“. All these series are an extraordinary demonstration that you can do unleashed and zany comedy without losing sight of sensitivity, and that’s why Gervais has managed the feat of making us laugh while making us think. He doesn’t just drop the bomb, but this is the catharsis that allows us to reason some of the major issues of our daily lives. In “After Life“, his latest project for Netflix, he turns his hand to the saga of one of the most difficult issues to address both in life and in fiction: Death. What’s the point of living after you lose the person that matters most to you? Does life in society make any sense when you realize that you no longer have a reason to integrate? The answers to these questions are tackled in the six, 30-minute episodes of this splendid series that examines how we deal with mourning, the role of humour and our ability to empathize with others.

“After Life”

In “After Life” Gervais plays Tony, a reporter for a free local newspaper who has decided to remove all the filters from social interaction after the death of wife. He verbalizes his pain to unusual extremes, holds back nothing regarding what he thinks of others and has even tried to commit suicide, but never manages to go through with it as it would mean leaving his dog without a master. But reality will always surprise you, although you have decided that you have no apparent reason to believe it. Gervais remains faithful to his particular way of explaining things. “After Life” is a very simple, very conventional series, and each scene is designed to challenge the viewer: in some way, every debate, every situation exposed to us, invites us to walk in the Tony’s shoes and examine our own moral stance on this and other issues. Tony, like Gervais in the show’s society, speaks his mind freely when it comes to the thoughts we would only dare allow ourselves to think. And at the same time, we identify with his personal tragedy, because his loss appeals to ours, and intimately we know that his way of life is the perfect representation of this complexity. The principal merit of this series, a true compendium of the tragicomic nature of our lives, is its ability to make us laugh and cry in the same scene. There are moments of exceptional dramatic intensity, but when it seems that the opening of the flood-gates is inevitable, he pulls a gag or some other disgusting event out of his sleeve, forcing us to accept the balsamic power of comedy. All this is because “After Life” is, in the end, an act of extreme honesty: a declaration of love for life, but also a lucid diagnosis of the heavy burdens we must carry. It is impossible to finish it and not find ourselves being moved as we reflect on what we have lost, on what we still have, and on the importance of becoming aware.

Pep Prieto: Journalist and writer. Series reviewer at ‘El Món a RAC1’ and “Àrtic” Betevé show. Essay author of “Al filo del mañana”, about travel movies in time, and of “Poder absoluto”, about cinema and politics.