The following review will be spoiler free.
Following the tremendous first season of After Life, I attempted to go into the second season without any presumptions or standards for the season to live up to. I found the first season raw and touching, as did the majority of viewers. We left Tony (Ricky Gervais) at the end of Season 1 in a better place than where we found him, he had grown and was on the mend. Season 2 begins what feels like no more than a few weeks after Season 1's finale.
Gervais (who also wrote and directed the entirety of both seasons) absolutely nails this new tone for Tony, a man who isn’t as depressed or as suicidal as he once was, but is still suffering and continuing to learn.
Through the 6 episodes, each being a solid half hour of really blunt but digestible content, we add another piece to Tony’s slowly forming puzzle of life after the passing of his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman). Gervais continues to add in pieces of normality through the recorded flashbacks of life pre-mourning, which gives me a wonderful understanding of the life Tony yearned for.
Stella, unapologetically honest and truthful. After Life encapsulates the brutality of ‘smiling through the pain’, and the affect your actions have on those around you. I found the performances of Joe Wilkinson and Roisin Conaty united to be a much needed addition to the show, to separate from the first season. It gave a lovely juxtaposition from the main plot, to be rooting for a blossoming weird relationship.
The thing I found so fascinating about this season, was that in a lot of tv and film, your main character will have their issues, overcome them by the end of the season, then proceed to fix everyone else. After Life is not that. After Life is true. No one is fixed overnight, no one grieves and moves on. There is always something there and it does more than creep up on you every now and then. In Hollywood pictures focusing on the subject of grief, I find that there’s too many times a character will grieve, then continue their arc as the character who was in a dark place but is better now because of it. Tony is not better. Tony has not became a better person. Gervais poignantly shows, especially in the final episode, that Tony was his best self when he was with Lisa. He’s still figuring out who he is without his wife, and he may not be as aggressive as he was, but the pain is still unmatched. Even with the prospect of a future with Emma (Ashley Jenson), and the more understanding work community he is now in, as shown in the final moments of the season finale, Tony is not better. Tony is working on it. That type of honesty in television is hard to come by, not everything needs to be wrapped in a picture perfect bow by the end, which is what Gervias’ work in television is good at, leaving the audience in a place where they don’t need an ending, instead they’re left with hope that the character will be okay.
I feel I should point out some great moments in the show. I was pleased with the dips into the lives of the Newspaper staff; Sandy’s (Mandeep Dhillon) being a stand out, along with Matt’s (Tom Basden) struggle with masculinity. Although, I did find where we left his character to be a bit convenient, I would’ve loved to seen how he coped as a man on his own making co-parenting work, but one gripe out of a whole 3 hours of content is pretty great in my book. Finally, Gervais’ script work in the final episode around the trans community was very pleasant. Sometimes it’s nice to show that willingness to understand these newer concepts of life, and it’s valuable to see how they’re perceived through older characters. I enjoyed Lenny’s (Tony Way) moment of thinking out loud around the topic.
After Life season 2 is strong, real and balanced. I recommend watching it on Netflix. Times are rough right now, and as much as we all need a laugh, we can all do with a cry too. After Life provides both.