Originally published in Medium by Amy Welborn
After Life is also dark, also a comedy, none of that unexpected as it comes from the mind and pen of Ricky Gervais. I’m not a huge fan of Gervais, especially in his self-important Professional Atheist guise, although I did like The Office and Extras and very much — very much — appreciate his firm dismissal of transgender activism and other aspects of Cancel Culture. He’s one of the few consistent public figures out there on this score: Yes, I have the right to express my views, no matter how noxious they’re judged to be — and that means others do as well.
Gervais plays Tony, a man whose wife died of cancer some months before we get rolling. They were together for twenty-five years, and childless. Tony works at a small-town newspaper and spends his days having foul-tempered run-ins with various townspeople and co-workers. Episodes are peppered with Tony watching videos left by his wife when she was in the hospital, as well as videos he made of their life together.
The bottom line of the plot here is: Tony has lost his world, and doesn’t see a reason to keep existing. Suicide is continually on his mind, even when he chooses against it — that choice gives him, as he puts it, a “superpower” — to keep on living life exactly as he pleases, saying and doing what he wants, knowing that at any point he can just end it.
After a few episodes of this jerk behavior, we have a shift — a decision Tony makes results in a tragedy (although he never really takes ownership of it), which results in him rethinking things — along with a few other encounters, he comes to understand that, yes, he has a “superpower” — to impact the lives of others for good.
So…(again, spoiler alert) — the last episode gives us the equivalent of a Hallmark/Lifetime movie or It’s a Wonderful Life as Tony opens up to life again, finally realizes that he’s not the only person in the world who’s suffering and sprinkles the fairy dust of good deeds over his surroundings. It’s almost shockingly sentimental.