UAE Review: After Life

The third season is out. The story of a man grieving the loss of his better half, amid a din of hopeful hurrahs and stoic humour, finally devolves towards a denouement as the series wraps up


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Fri 11 Feb 2022, 12:10 AM

In many ways, the best thing about After Life — the British series created, written and directed by Ricky Gervais, who also plays lead protagonist Tony — is that it’s anti-axiomatic. Life goes on, time is the best healer, call it what you will, is all turned on its head. It’s okay to admit, and come to terms with, that life doesn’t go on, and that “this too shall pass” could actually be a myth.

And the show must go on? Well, it doesn’t really: this is the final season of the acclaimed show, that also has its share of brickbats from life enthusiasts who feel tragedy cannot be a protracted, never-ending affair.

For those of us who watched — or will be watching — the recently-released third instalment of After Life, here’s what we know. Tony is an unambitious journalist working for a loss-making community newspaper in the (fictional) small town of Tambury, where time literally stands still; the paper is run by his well-intentioned, thoroughly-nice-bloke brother-in-law Matt (Tom Basden). In the beginning (Season 1), it was revealed that Tony’s wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman) has died not too long ago, and he has been plunged into agonising grief, has toyed with the idea of taking his life, but is waddling on, mostly on autoprompt and perhaps because there’s a reason: his (and Lisa’s) pet dog Brandy, who second-guesses Tony’s daily instincts, and stands on guard every single time. And Matt, for his part, puts up with Tony’s (at times) over-the-top idiosyncrasies that are outlets for his suicidal torment.

This despairing life-scape runs on humour, a lot of it black. Tony (and the serial’s tonality) dissembles, trying to find a way to cope with the use of liberal, obnoxious levity as a mechanism to probe futility and an elusive sense of floating hope. Lisa keeps popping up on cue: every single moment in Tony’s life is a throwback to her — many of them curated (the only time technology plays a part), many of them in free fall.

Tony grapples with good intentions, kindness and empathy along the way — that, supposedly, could be ‘reasons’ for him to stay on track even as he teeters: colleagues (and friends) who love him to bits, a brother-in-law who’s a rock, an adorable father (who dies in Season 2), random niceness of strangers… and, most of all, Brandy.

It’s tough to factor in love, death and a fuzzy sense of warmth onto the imponderable menu that life stands for — all the while having in place a razor-sharp script and a sense of humour. Played out by characters who are so in the skin that you begin to believe they are extensions of your emotions. And finally, the most thumping endorsement about the surreality of life: how tightly-knotted grief can be and yet how fragile — you just need a pinprick to make it flake.

Go back to Joni Mitchell, on whose note the series ends, and “Well something’s lost, but something’s gained/ In living every day/ I’ve looked at life from both sides now/ From win and lose and still somehow/ It’s life’s illusions I recall”. Go ahead, watch it: there are very rare ‘entertainment’ forms you can soak in and emerge a better person. Be a better person.

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