Of all his work on the small-screen, Ricky Gervais' After Life is the first that feels first-and-foremost like a drama. Sure, he's dabbled into serious and emotional topics on classics like The Office (2001 - 2003) , Extras (2005 - 2007), and Derek (2012 - 2014), but comedy always felt like it was at the forefront of those shows, whereas with his latest outing, comedy takes a backseat to raw emotion and drama. It's just a shame that Gervais doesn't pull off either particularly well this time around.
After Life follows small-town journalist Tony (Gervais), who, after his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman) dies of cancer, is fed up with life and starts living it the way he wants to. He's brutally honest (in that typical Gervais wit) to his workmates, rude to children, and refuses any opportunity to regain happiness. However, along the way he learns that life and happiness spread way beyond his own feelings. The show deals with some pretty serious topics such as mental health and suicide, but doesn't do so in a very seamless way. Tonally, the show is pretty much all over the place, with serious scenes immediately jumping to light-hearted comedic scenes, as well was moments that aren't certain whether they want to come off as funny or serious. There are funny moments on this show and, indeed, there are also deeply moving moments too. The show just never seems to balance the two seamlessly enough to feel natural.
Another major problem this show has is it's use of dialogue telling the audience developments instead of actually showing them. Every episode is pretty much exposition central, especially the last one, which is basically every main character reciting a monologue on how important it is to make others happy. A potentially moving message but 1.) If it's constantly rammed down our throats throughout a single episode, it's becomes monotonous, and 2.) Telling us is nowhere near as powerful as showing us. It's a shame because there are moments when certain developments are shown to the audience beautifully; there's a lovely moment in one episode where Tony is on a beach alone with his dog, and he reminisces about being on the same beach with Lisa; in his memory, she is running around in the sea water telling him to join her. This leads seamlessly into the present day; he wades into the ocean in an apparent suicide attempt, before swimming back to shore after not wanting to abandon his dog. It's a achingly poignant moment that shows not only how devastated Lisa's death has left Tony, but also conveys how Tony still has responsibilities in life. He can't leave his dog behind, just like, as he later finds out, he can't abandon those who care for him because he has so much to give them in return. A compelling message that is unfortunately not as well conveyed in the rest of the series.
This is still an entertaining show. It's got great performances all round, is very watchable, and has a beautiful melancholic soundtrack. It's just not very memorable, some characters feel pointless and their personalities aren't really developed enough to go anywhere, and it does too much telling and not enough showing. Still, it's a worthy watch for its touching moments, and has a decent uplifting message connected to topics that are difficult to make light of, even if it isn't executed in the most astounding way.