After Life - Ricky Gervais' new series is a moving, sincere meditation on grief and the kindness of strangers

As a recently bereaved, bearded local newspaper journalist, it seemed as though Ricky Gervais was taking the mick with his new series After Life (Netflix, streaming now).

Friday, 29th March 2019, 2:20 pm
Updated Friday, 29th March 2019, 2:24 pm
Ricky Gervais and Penelope Wilton star in the new Netflix show After Life

Tony (Gervais) is a recently bereaved, bearded local newspaper journalist. His wife, Lisa (Kerry Godliman) has died – cancer, tell me about it – and he rages at the world and the people in it, doing and saying whatever he wants, because what’s the worst that can happen? And after all, Tony reasons, he can always kill himself.

What he’s forgotten is that people are kind and considerate and concerned – even though they’re struggling with their own problems – and being interested in other people brings them happiness in turn.

After Life, then, is far from being nihilistic or pessimistic about the world. Quite the contrast, it’s almost sunnily optimistic, with a touching faith in the redeeming goodness of others.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It seems a little mechanical, with each episode putting Tony at one or other of the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – but it’s beautifully written: “I’d rather be nowhere with her, than somewhere without her” seems to get it totally.

And it’s absolutely sincere, something I hadn’t associated with Gervais before.

I’ve found that, nearly 18 months since my wife died, I can function as a normal person. People have been amazing, genuinely concerned, even those who barely know me and my family. However, every time someone asks ‘how are you?’, it’s like picking at a scab and that sharp pain takes my breath away.

But that reminds me my wife and I had something worth mourning, and worth honouring by living life as best as I can. And for this audience of one, that’s what After Life gets. Beautifully.

The Good Fight (More 4, Thursdays, 9pm) is back, taking more risks than ever with its format of glossily clever lawyers tackling the big issues of Trump’s America. One of the best things on TV.

The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story (BBC4, Tues, Weds, Thurs, 9pm) put the victims in the middle of the story, something the police never did. A disturbing documentary.