It’s on that very same bench the protagonist of After Life confessed he no longer had a reason to live is now where he finds the idea that helps him face life, as his friend Anne, watching him break down talking about how he met his wife, Lisa tells him, “Oh, there are angels by the way. They don’t have wings or live in the clouds… sometimes you bump into them. Like Lisa…” This is the moment Tony realizes what Lisa had really intended when she recorded the videos we’ve been watching with him throughout the previous two seasons of After Life, the final season of which has recently premiered on  Netflix. They weren’t just her way of saying goodbye, but were about ensuring that in the face of the pain of loss, Tony would choose to connect with others, open up to the world, and try to be an agent of kindness instead of sinking into bitterness and closing in on himself. Because Lisa knew Tony better than he did himself, and Ricky Gervais knows his audience well, and he’s aware that what she’s asking is easier said than done. And that’s why, over three seasons, the character played by Ricky Gervais has dealt with pain by hurting others with his self-destructive attitude and snide, piercing comments that would almost be funny if they hadn’t been so hurtful.

Ricky Gervais strikes a chord with us through the stories of his all-endearing characters, emotionally orchestrated use of music, and stellar performances.

Because humor can also be used as a defense mechanism to push others away, keeping them at a safe distance and this is where the most intimate side of Ricky Gervais emerges, aware of his own career, and drawing a parallel between himself and his protagonist, he speaks of humor like a shield. A shield he began to lower in Derek and places definitively on the ground now in After Life. The warm-hearted Ricky Gervais hiding behind the hooligan host of the Golden Globes, the standup comedian crossing every imaginable red line during his theater-packed shows and showcased by every pathetic character in comedies like The Office and Extras. So, what Gervais wanted, was to make us laugh, something he achieved in spades, (The Office is still one of the most celebrated and influential comedies of all time). Now, he’s offering up some food for thought, and even though After Life combines moments of comedy gold, especially from Tony’s job at the local paper, with instants of heart-wrenching sadness, when all is said and done, we laugh a little and cry a lot. Ricky Gervais strikes a chord with us through the stories of his all-endearing characters, emotionally orchestrated use of music, and stellar performances. The result is that audiences feel like there watching a genuinely honest series that compensates for life lessons often expressed somewhat artificially in the mouths of the different characters.

Once the metaphor of the angel was revealed, the series finally allowed the protagonist to move forward (Spoiler alert from here on in). The encounter with children suffering from cancer was the second trigger that convinces Tony to resolutely become a good person, and also like Lisa, an angel. An idea expressed in a wonderfully simple final scene. Tony, accompanied by Lisa, his angel, walks off into the sunset, giving us to understand that he’ll always keep this idea present as he goes forward, his dog, and second guardian angel, also eventually disappears from view, as Tony also disappears, like another angel leaving the earthly world. Ultimately, After Life emerges as an ode to kindness, just like Derek before it, where Ricky Gervais played a character who defined himself with the phrase “It’s more important to be good than to be intelligent or handsome.” The big difference between the two is that After Life serves as a warning that we don’t have much time to mull things over. Placing death at the heart of the series reminds us that life is short, and change isn’t something you can put off for another day, as Tony has been doing for the past three seasons, navigating the choppy waters between sadness, complacency, depression and alcoholism. The show inevitably urges us to be good people and to be good people now. “If you want to be an angel, you have to do it while you’re alive.”

Toni de la Torre. TV series critic. Toni works in ‘El Matí de Catalunya Ràdio’, El Temps, Què fem, Ara Criatures, Sàpiens and he also collaborates in TV3 magazine show ‘Tot es mou’. Author of several books on television series and a lecturer at the Barcelona Screenwriters and Showrunners school and in his free time, he likes to give conference on series. Highlights include Premi Bloc de Catalunya 2014.