AFTERLIFE written, directed by and starring Ricky Gervais

(A Netflix Original, 2019)

Screen shot 2019-03-11 at 18.59.48Yesterday, I blogged about Gus Van Sant’s flawed attempt to deal with complicated issues of guilt and grief in ‘The Sea of Trees’.

In that movie, the death of the lead character’s wife drives the leading male into a narcissistic flirtation with suicide until he finds some vague spiritual redemption. This kind of cop-out is all too often the way these stories go.

God’s reputation for moving in mysterious ways allows scriptwriters to sidestep the less palatable, but all too probable, conclusion that when this mortal coil is cut there is no heaven or hell, no all-knowing deity. …. nothing.

These too infrequently voiced non-beliefs are squarely addressed in the unlikely form of a new comedy vehicle for Ricky Gervais. Since Gervais has been outspoken advocate of atheism, it is with a knowing sense of irony that he should choose to call his six part series on Netflix ‘Afterlife’.

The bold themes of the show relate to a bereft man trying to find a meaning in life when there appears to be none. This is a question that hits hard for him after the death of his beloved wife to cancer.

Admittedly, this may not sound like a bundle of laughs but to his eternal credit Gervais manages to steer clear of glibness or gloom to create a show that is both irreverently funny and genuinely touching.

There are a few too many size-ist jokes but to get across some powerful arguments for and gags about atheism in a mainstream show is no mean feat and while I’ve never been a huge fan of him in the past I take my hat off to him for this achievement.

There is no blinding flash of revelation (save that for the bible bashers) but by the end his character of Tony nevertheless concedes that while we are alive we have a duty to show compassion and kindness to our fellow travelers. Crucially, however, this humanistic principle comes with the key caveat that it’s still ok to be nasty and mean to dickheads.