Based on jarring themes of the past couple of years, it was only natural to be drawn to a dark comedy about death, that depicts the brutal aftermath of surviving the heart-wrenching loss of the person that made every angle of your life worth the trouble.
The journey of our existence may provide harrowing episodes of candor, but we can’t deny the fascination of watching how the aging process whips us into disciplined reality of why our younger years were indeed the icing on the cake, before the hardened slices of extended exposure begin to alter taste buds of blissfulness.
I may never know what it’s like to be widowed, but I do have a pretty good idea what happens when people you’ve loved for most of your life suddenly begin to make final exits to that place that I was raised to believe was paradise, but now I just accept it’s wherever we were before our birth date was activated.
This current climate of strife and sorrow encourages light-weight programming that provides much-needed relief from trolls who wish you dead.
But Ricky Gervais is a genius, and so it was hard to imagine that his latest offering, After life, would be a major bummer. And less than 5 minutes after the surrender, life was good!
Gervais is Tony Johnson, a middle-aged head writer at the local newspaper, who loses his beloved wife, Lisa, after a bout with breast cancer. It doesn’t take long for viewers to sink into the despair emanating from a relatively young widower, as he grapples with the task of mourning his loss while soaking in the luminosity of his wife’s presence through video messages that she lovingly curated for his benefit.
They say that the grieving process is different for everyone but the stages are relatable. Tony is definitely in the realm of anger with the splashes of acute bitterness, and this phase is exactly what gives the show the punch it needs to avoid the pitfalls of being a sappy pudding of emotions that exhaust and depress.
We are energized by this guy’s contempt for how the world can keep functioning without the presence of the one person who validated the worthiness of existing in formulated chaos.
Of course the obvious response to unbearable pain is to make it stop at all costs, even if it means extreme measures. Tony does make attempts to permanently end things, but then there’s the dilemma of who will step in as the devoted caretaker of Brandy.
The family dog essentially keeps Tony diligently occupied in all the ways that matter for his punctured psyche.
Outside forces are hard to avoid when you have to return to some sense of normalcy.
When Tony reports for duty, his colleagues are careful not to ruffle any feathers, although their efforts fall flat, since each individual in the small space of an office, aside from the new girl, showcases personalities that make them a prime target for the feature writer’s biting wit.
Brother-in-law Matt, is the concerned boss and empathetic family member, who desperately misses his sister, but also needs her emotionally-unstable husband to get the additional help he needs to cope.
Tony is in fact attending weekly sessions with his psychiatrist, and those scenes are standouts, thanks to the hilarity of engagement between the patient and the expert, who is implementing an unconventional approach for the pathway to wellness.
The bit players that glide in and out of the 6-episode series are weighty enough to make the lasting impact that eventually gives Tony the inspiration to summon enough guts to not just survive his life, but also sweetly spread the news of why being alive isn’t such a bad deal.
We also get invited to the other living member of his family, when a routine visit to a nursing home introduces us to his father, Ray, who is suffering from dementia, and gets the good fortune of being properly taken care of by a dutiful nurse, Emma, played with affecting vigor by Extras Ashley Jensen.
It was wonderful to witness the gorgeous reunion of two long-time collaborators who belong together on screen because of the magic that happens on cue.
It was also interesting to note Jensen’s participation on a show that examines the graveness of a serious subject that hits close to home on a personal level, based on her own devastating testimony of losing a husband to suicide not too long ago.
And that’s probably the greatest lesson to be acquired when life and death collide, and the debris scatters about with the threat that nothing will ever be quite the same.
After Life isn’t at all about death.
It’s about living and how those who are left behind are assigned the initial role of inhabiting a lifeless shell that barely responds to basic commands. And then there’s the desire to make everyone around you suffer the pain they can’t feel.
It’s part of the package that we all reluctantly signed up for without approval because who in the world wants to contemplate the day when the one we love the most leaves us alone and burdened?
But when it happens, things get complicated and there’s no easy solution to absorbing the steep plunge into the dark hole of utter frightfulness.
That’s what makes the character of Tony Johnson so gratifyingly human, as he navigates the messiness that’s eventually finessed into the imperfect-perfect settlement that doesn’t guarantee the goal of a “happy ending.”
Just the hope that life will remain solidly doable after death fixes us for good.