Whilst the momentum of After Life came to a satisfying conclusion with the final episode of Season One, it still came as no surprise when its creator and star, Ricky Gervais, announced that he had begun to work on Season Two, due to the almost universal praise that it had received.
Of course “The Difficult Second Album” (to paraphrase how Gervais once described his The Office follow up show, Extras) would naturally face the weight of expectation in comparison to its originator and I for one approached the second season with a sense of mixed emotions.
For me, the first season was almost a perfect snapshot of the power and subsequent effects of grief and loss. Whilst we weren’t given the Hollywood schmaltz of a completely happy ending, it did provide a glimpse of a new beginning for the lead character Tony who seemed to be turning the corner of not wanting to take his own life following the loss of his wife Lisa and begin to once again embrace the world and the people that had been supporting him throughout his grieving process. Of course, the fact that Tony had seemingly allowed the possibility of a new romance starting between himself and his dementia suffering father’s carer/nurse, Emma (Ashley Jensen) also left one with the hope that everything would start to be ok for him from this point onwards.
To begin the second season, one would almost naturally assume that Tony’s life and in particular his new relationship would have taken centre stage, however what we are presented with is slightly different. The schmaltz of a happy ending doesn’t often occur in reality and Gervais is perhaps keen to show us that the process of grief isn’t always linear in its start and finish and that there may be a few detours or setbacks along the way. For a start, Tony doesn’t feel that he can commit to a romantic relationship with Emma without feeling as if he is cheating on Lisa’s memory but at the same time he doesn’t want to lose his attachment with Emma either and this is highlighted to him even more so when another potential suitor appears on the scene.
This story element though, is almost secondary to Tony’s self-imposed need to try and heal the world around him. He faces several challenges including trying to match up various people together so that they won’t feel his sense of self-imposed loneliness. He also needs to cope with the anguish of watching the collapse of his brother in-law’s marriage and even finds himself trying to save the local newspaper he works for. Not that Tony would necessarily mind the change in employment, rather that he feels he is compelled to do so so that a fellow employee/friend won’t lose the one and only job that she has ever truly enjoyed doing.
Whereas Tony’s “Superpower” of being able to say and do whatever he wanted has diminished slightly since we last met him, his blunt and unapologetic approach to dealing with people who frustrate him is still there and this allows the laughs to come rolling in but not with the same intensity as the first season did in my opinion, comedy obviously being purely subjective. In fact, this second outing feels almost like a melodrama interspersed with the occasional joke. That’s not to say that I didn’t laugh out loud several times during the six episodes, but definitely not with the same regularity or intensity as I did with the first season and whilst that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for me, it may be slightly disappointing for others. In fact, the show seems content not to play primarily for laughs aside from one character in particular in the form of the therapist played by Paul Kaye, which seems to be there just to get such a response and unfortunately falls short of doing so.
On the whole, Season Two has had the reverse effect on me of the first. Whereas I would have been perfectly happy for the rest of Tony’s story to have remained a happy mystery for me after the end of the first season, it now strikes me that given the almost uncertainty of the second season’s story conclusion, I now need to return to Tony’s life this time next year just to check and see if everything is alright with everyone now.
Gervais has been less definite that the story will continue as of yet in his public comments but did recently state that he would be willing to make a third season if the public wanted one and I have no doubt that this will be the case. Of course Netflix will naturally want to continue the show’s massive ratings success. The cast of supporting characters have definitely grown more on me and given how the nature of the storytelling this time around has evolved with the spotlight shifting slightly away from Tony’s situation, this has naturally left more of a feeling of unresolved issues needing a continuation and conclusion.
Whilst the show’s second season has perhaps pointed to this being the first time that Gervais will take the story on further than two full seasons (although both The Office and Extras both got one-off specials after their respective runs), it does fall slightly short of the near perfect first season but I would not let this detract from recommending such a well written, touching, and funny piece of work, one that fans of Gervais and the first season certainly won’t want to miss.
Film ‘89 Verdict – 8/10
After Life Season 2 is available now on Netflix (regional variances may apply).