'After Life': Ricky Gervais pulls off the transition of Tony Johnson from a bitter man to a sensitive soul with aplomb
It's a lovely day, but Tony Johnson can't feel any of it. He wakes up to watch a clip of his wife Lisa telling him a list of things he needs to take care of (yes, even a reminder to feed his dog) and hears her saying: “If you're watching this, then I'm not around anymore.” Starring comedian Ricky Gervais in the lead, 'After Life' is a comedy-drama on Netflix that puts the spotlight on a man who lost the love of his life to cancer and is now in no mood to live anymore. What he feels for his late wife is evident at the moment when he says, “I'd rather be nowhere with her than somewhere without her.”
The head of feature stories at the Tambury Gazette, a local newspaper where he works with his brother-in-law Matt, Tony decides he is going to use his “superpower” from then on. He tells Matt: “That's the beauty of it. There's no advantage of being nice and thoughtful and caring and having integrity. It's a disadvantage if anything. If I become an arsehole, and I do and say what the fuck I want for as long as I want, and then when it gets too much, I can always kill myself. It's like a superpower.”
To be the “no more mister-nice-guy”, he gives a piece of his mind to everyone he encounters—right from Postman Pat to novice storekeepers and random strangers he bumps into at the restaurants he goes. His anguish can be felt when he tells his unsympathetic psychiatrist: “A good day is when I don’t want to shoot random strangers in the face, then turn the gun on myself.”
Even as everyone around him seems to have made up their minds to bring his life back on track, he doesn't have the enthusiasm and spark to be the happy old chap he was. Matt even helps set up a date for him and his colleagues take him shopping. In the next few episodes, the show steers through some dark incidents laced with witty humor. Tony is undeterred and fights back two goons who wanted to take his life for a few bucks. Later, he lends money to Julian (Tim Plester) who hinted at using it for a heroin overdose. Julian ends up dead the next day, and the question remains: Is Tony is responsible for it? Well, the answer is highly debatable. But, that's life, isn't it?
The events that roll through the course of his life in the next few days seem to bring him back to normal. By episode five of the Netflix series, Tony finally seems to look on the brighter side as he begins to realize he still cares about people. In the last episode, her wife tells him in a video she created before her death, “I want you to move on. I want you to meet someone nearly as lovely as me.” Later that day, Tony goes to his workplace and thanks to every single person who has faced his ill-temper and helped him cope with the trauma. His conversation with Anne, an older widow who he regularly meets at the cemetery, helps soothe his troubles. He also asks Emma, a nurse who works at his dad's nursing home, for a drink to give him a chance to apologize and she agrees. But will that help spark a new love connection in his life?
As Season 2 on Netflix on April 24, it is still to be seen whether it helps turn Tony's life around at all. For now, we can safely agree with Ricky Gervais' portrayal of Tony from a bitter man to a sensitive soul does strike the right chord and seeps through the heart.