Netflix's After Life Review: 6 Ups & 3 Downs
Has Ricky Gervais found his mojo again?
Netflix are doing incredibly well with some of their original content at the minute. As well as excellent stand-up specials like Adam Sandler's 100% Fresh, brilliant new shows like The Umbrella Academy and Dirty John and intriguing film projects like Velvet Buzzsaw, it's also given Ricky Gervais a new opportunity to try and recapture the magic of The Office and Extras.
What he's produced is After Life, the current hottest topic in Netflix's fan communities - as well as the newest season of Brooklyn Nine Nine, obviously - a show about a bereaved man pushed beyond the end of his tether and his willingness to cow to people. He's decided his superpower is not caring to be nice, with a safety net offered - quite shcokingly - by suicide, if he can no longer take it. It'd be a difficult sell in traditional terms, but it exists alongside Groundhog Day as a dark but surprisingly uplifting work.
It's likely to be a divisive show, partly because of the man behind it and partly because of the subject matter, but it's definitely a great watch for the most part. That "for the most part" qualification matters though, because it's far from a flawless show and the flaws are particularly interesting in this case.
First the negatives...
3. It's A LITTLE Self-Congratulatory
Perhaps it's because Gervais now doesn't have anyone writing with him, but at times, After Life feels both like an extension of his social media presence and an attempt to justify it. It would probably be foolish to suggest that he's in any way seeking acceptance, but there's definitely some material in here geared towards doubling down on his more frequently-expressed sentiments on Twitter.
In that respect, Gervais is essentially dating himself. Did he need to rant about his atheism in here as much as he does? Probably not. Did he need to mock characters with faith while writing a positive message about self-determinism? Again, probably not.
All it does is adds to the slightly nagging feeling at the end of the final episode that Gervais has imagined a world where he is a messianic protector of happiness, therefore whatever he thinks is justified. He revels in his status as a sort of philosophical activist - protecting people he deems as wrong from their own wrongness - so of course he'd be the one to be in a position to validate every other character's happiness. It's all a bit messianic.